“By the 11th century, the custom had developed in the West of blessing candles on the Feast of the Presentation. The candles were [brought] then lit, and a procession took place through the darkened church while the Canticle of Simeon was sung. Because of this, the feast also became known as Candlemas.” (Scott P. Richert)
Blessing of the candles? Well, yes, this was when traditionally all the candles to be used in the coming year were brought into church for a blessing. So it was the festival of the candles, and worship always included the Mass, so it became Candlemas. Through the centuries it also became part of the secular, or at least the academic, vocabulary as well. At Oxbridge the two terms of study historically began on Michaelmas (29 Sept.) and Candlemas (2 Feb.). Both Oxford and Cambridge now use a three term academic year.
The day’s full, official title on the liturgical calendar is The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. This is always the 2nd of February, or 40 days after Christmas, the required time in the Law of Moses for the purification of a new mother of a son, double the time required if she had a daughter. See Leviticus 12.
So Mary and Joseph brought the forty day old Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem, where they were met by Simeon and Anna, two old and very faith-full people. You can read the story in Luke 2:22-40, the Gospel text assigned for the day. Since The Presentation falls on Saturday we aren’t using these texts in our celebration of the Resurrection on Sunday, but I invite you to read through all the texts, especially the Gospel reading, and reflect on this part of Jesus’ life, and the wonderful servants who supported him, Mary and Joseph first, of course, but also Anna and Simeon. Having read these texts, and seen the wonderful connection between the story and light (again), prayerfully consider how this is also your story.
Here is Simeon’s song of thanksgiving to God for the Saviour, having seen the baby Jesus, and held him, traditionally called the Nunc Dimittis, from the first words of the Latin text:
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
Thanks be to God!