Let us celebrate Candlemas and keep alive many centuries of Catholic Tradition.
If Christmas Day is "day one" then Candlemas is "day forty" with all that resonates in Biblical history: the flood, Christ in the desert, and from that the 40 days of Lent.
Indeed by the 17th Century Candlemas was seen as the very end of the Christmas season, and the Holy Father this year has said he will keep the crib on display until Candlemas.
But the strongest attraction of Candlemas is the 'bitter-sweet' nature of what it celebrates. It is a feast day, and the revelation of the child Jesus in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing. Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will pierce, lead on to the passion and to Easter. The scriptures and the liturgy of the Christmas season have several pointers to the suffering of the Lord, but none more potent than the words of Simeon. Coming as they do at the very end of the Christmas celebration and with Lent nearly always very close, they make Candlemas a kind of pivot in the Christian year. It is as if we say, on 2 February, 'One last look back to Christmas, and now, turn towards the cross!' On such a reckoning, the liturgical colour changes after the Eucharist at Candlemas from the white of Epiphanytide to a more penitential colour as Lent approaches.
In the old liturgies some of the 'bitter-sweet' flavour of the day was sometimes expressed through a striking change of liturgical colour, the procession in purple vestments and the eucharist in white. In origin this probably reflects little more than the habitually penitential nature of Processional rites, even when associated with a feast. It is this tradition that we have tried to use creatively in the Eucharist of Candlemas. We have moved the procession to the end of the Eucharist, where Nunc Dimittis in any case seems more appropriate, given it a penitential feel and made it, especially by the Responsory that follows it, the point of transition from Christmas to Easter. As such it is a very powerful ending to all that The Promise of His Glory celebrates.
In addition to the eucharist, a Vigil Service for Candlemas is provided. This is on the same model as the other Vigil Services in this book but, in some ways, is the greatest of them, building as it does on the light theme that belongs to this festival. Instead of psalmody, biblical chants, mainly from the Byzantine rite, have been used between the readings, and, as at the Eucharist, a procession with lighted candles may be made at the end, as Nunc Dimittis is sung.
By the seventh century it had become the custom to begin the worship service on February 2 with candlelighting by the congregation gathered outside the worship area followed by a procession into the Church with all carrying their lighted candles. This was to relive Simeon's experience of meeting the "light of nations" at the temple. The pastor Sophronius wrote in that century
Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.
Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who came to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.
So let us hasten to meet our God.
In 2010, Christ's College, Cambridge University, held a Medieval Torchlit procession for Candlemas. What a sight it must have been:
On Tuesday 2 February, the Christian church ends its traditional period of celebration for Christmas and Epiphany with Candlemas. In Christ's we will be celebrating this special day by throwing ourselves back into the 16th century period with a mediaeval torchlight procession, with the blessing of Candles and Compline. This event coincides with the 500th anniversary of the consecration of the College Chapel in 1510.
Everyone is welcome to what will be a spectacular occasion and everyone will be given a processional torch or candle to carry.
Mediaeval music accompanied by drumbeat will be provided by members of the College Choir.