There are few scenes more captivating than a candlelit procession. It is a pity though, that there are few events less “practical,” that processions have become rare in the lives of most parishes. Though they have never been “easy” to plan and execute, it is a much different prospect to process through an urban neighborhood than to cordon off multi-lane highways. Older Catholic cemeteries were often adjacent to the parish church; now they are just as likely as not to be miles away.
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2 (“The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary” in the EF), or “Candlemass,” was traditionally one of the great liturgical processions of the Church’s year. It can now be difficult to find a community which continues this tradition, but they are still out there. If you have never been part of one yourself, the rite begins with a solemn blessing of candles, those which will be carried by the congregation in procession, but also the candles which will be used in church for the following year.
These candles, like all candles used in our prayers, represent Christ the Light: Christ is the light of my life, the source of all light that shines through the Church, the light of revelation to the nations, Christ is the Light of the World. The Presentation commemorates Mary and Joseph bringing the Christ-child to be dedicated in the Temple, 40 days after his birth. The Son of God fulfills the Law commanded by God; God has visited His Temple.
When we light or carry a candle it can be like blessing ourselves with Holy Water. The water recalls our Baptisms, and the light can recall our baptismal candles. Faith is a gift from God, we can’t create it for ourselves. The Light of Faith comes from God but it can still be fragile and vulnerable—it needs protection, just as the Christ-child did. Jesus is the source of our light of faith and Jesus is the constant fuel that keeps it burning throughout our lives. Each Christian soul, each Christian life is a chosen lamp to carry and share that precious light. God has visited His Temple; God has come to dwell in each Christian heart washed in Baptism and sealed with the Holy Spirit. God is not ashamed to enter a temple even as humble as my heart—after all, He is the one who built it and chose it for His own.
Just a week later we will celebrate Ash Wednesday, a day marked by fasting and penance, a day when we are literally marked with ashes upon our foreheads. Remember man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. We are dust and we will die, and the fruit of this knowledge is humility. But we are dust which has been chosen for life and shaped for eternity—like the clay which formed Adam. We are mud filled with God’s breath, dust redeemed, ashes lit with undying flame. Carry your light into this Lenten Season recalling that the Paschal Candle stands shining, waiting for us at the Easter Vigil.
Hail to the Lord who comes,
Comes to his temple gate,
Not with his angel hosts,
Not in his kingly state;
But borne upon the throne
Of Mary’s gentle breast;
Thus to his Father’s house
He comes, a humble guest.
The world’s true light draws near
All darkness to dispel,
The flame of faith is lit
And dies the power of hell.
Our bodies and our souls
Are temples now for him,
For we are born of grace—
God lights our souls within.
O Light of all the earth!
We light our lives with thee;
The chains of darkness gone
All sons of God are free.
Tune: Maria jung und zart 66.66
Music: Psalteriolum Harmonicum, 1642
Text: John Ellerton, 1826-1893
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
Your word has been fulfilled.
My eyes have seen the salvation
You have prepared in the sight of every people,
A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel
The Canticle of Simeon or the “Nunc Dimittis”