Forty days after Christmas, on February 2, we celebrate the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the Purification of Mary. Both commemorate events in the life of Jesus and Mary related to the observance of Jewish Law as narrated in the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. The day is also known as Candlemas because on that day, the mid-point of winter candles are blessed for use in church as well as in our homes.
Though not a Holy Day of Obligation, Candlemas was an important day for my family. That day all of us attended morning Mass during which our pastor blessed the Candlemas candles that we would take home with us. After Mass, we joined my grandparents for a breakfast of traditional Candlemas crepes. In the evening, before bed we lit our new Candlemas candles for the first time and prayed together. The next day we packed away our nativity scene as the Christmas season was complete.
Those Candlemas candles meant a great deal to us. We brought them out when someone was sick or when disaster struck and we prayed in the glow of their flame. When we cleared out the house after my parents died we found several half-burned Candlemas candles that had supported us and given us hope throughout the years. We stopped our work, lit those candles one last time, and prayed for my parents.
On Sunday, February 2, we will bless the candles we will use during our liturgies this coming year and we will have Candlemas candles available for purchase. These candles can be lit at home when we find ourselves in a difficult time so they may give us hope as their light breaks the darkness. They are also an invitation for us to become what the candles symbolize:
Where the world is dark with illness
let me kindle the light of healing.
Where the world is dark with hatred
let me kindle the light of love.
Where the world is bleak with suffering
let me kindle the light of caring.
Where the world is dimmed by lies
let me kindle the light of truth.
(from a prayer for Shabbat)