Near the end of the fourth century, a woman made pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She wrote in her personal diary a glimpse of beautiful and historic liturgical life at that time in the Christian East. These writings were discovered 1,300 years later.
She describes the liturgical celebrations of 6 January… Epiphania in Greek…at that time, it was the joint observance of Christ’s Birth and the Adoration of the Magi. She also describes the great, solemn procession in honor of Christ’s Presentation in the Temple celebrated 40 days later—on 15 February. Under Mosaic Law, a woman was ritually unclean for 40 days after childbirth. To be purified, she would take a ritual bath (mikveh) and then would present herself to the priests and offer sacrifice…for her purification.
Sometimes considered a Marian feast, from a Catholic-Orthodox view…this celebration is more about Jesus than Mary, and His Presentation in the Temple.
This is Jesus’… the God-Man… first visit the Holy Temple in Jerusalem…Christ is the Light of the Nations (Lumen Gentium , in Latin) and Mary is the God-Bearer (Theotokos… in Greek), bringing that Light to us…so a Mediatrix , a mediator (in Latin), of Grace .
This celebration spread to the Western Church and by the sixth century, as the Universal Catholic-Orthodox Church started to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ according to the flesh on 25 December, so the Feast of the Presentation was moved to 2 February. At the beginning of the eighth century, the Syrian-Antiochene-born-Pope, St. Sergius I, who had a great sense of liturgy, introduced a candlelight procession to the liturgy. Soon, the blessing of candles was added, which continues as a part of the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or Candlemas , as it became to be known in some of the western Churches.
Under the old covenants, various offerings to God were brought by the people of Israel to the Temple. Today, we celebrate that occasion when God the Son is presented…He Himself is the Blessing…He Himself is, inevitably, the Greatest and Truest Sacrifice and Sin-Offering.
The Holy Family was greeted in the temple by two senior citizens, Simeon and the widow Anna. They represent all of what was good in the Israelite Tradition, most especially patience and the knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. These two saints of the old covenant …as so many others have throughout the centuries, professed…Jesus as the Anointed-One, the Messiah (Mashiach in Hebrew) . Simeon rejoices in the canticle recounted in the Gospel today. Each day, the western Church still prays this ode at Night Prayer or Compline…. The Eastern Churches incorporate this Song of Simeon in various Offices, including the Odes of Matins….
So many times, we cry out to God: How long, O Lord? How long? We pray for the Lord’s presence, in the world and in our lives.
Pope Paul VI wrote to us about the message and significance of the candle. ...The candle tells us: by burning, and being consumed in the burning…a spark of fire, a ray of love, an inevitable immolation are celebrated over that pure, straight candle, as, pouring forth its gift of light… it exhausts itself in silent sacrifice.
Jesus tells us I am the light and You are the light. Accepting this in faith, we see Christ as a light in the world and in others around us as Christ’s light in the world. Turn to each other in faith and let your light shine…brighter than any of these candles. And, let that Light of Christ conquer all darkness.