Known originally as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a relatively ancient celebration. The Church at Jerusalem observed the feast as early as the first half of the fourth century, and likely earlier. The feast celebrates the presentation of Christ in the temple at Jerusalem on the 40th day after His birth.

The feast falls on February 2nd.

Basic Facts About Candlemas

Liturgical Color(s):  White
   
Type of Holiday:   Feast
   
Time of Year: February 2nd
   
Duration: One Day
   
Celebrates/Symbolizes: The presentation of Jesus in the temple and the ritual purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
   
Alternate Names: Candlemas, Feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple, Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, Hypapante tou kyriou("meeting of the Lord").

Scriptural References:

Leviticus 12:1-4

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

2 Speak to the children of Israel, and thou shalt say to them: If a woman having received seed shall bear a man child, she shall be unclean seven days, according to the days of the separation of her flowers.

3 And on the eighth day the infant shall be circumcised:

4 But she shall remain three and thirty days in the blood of her purification. She shall touch no holy thing, neither shall she enter into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification be fulfilled.

Luke 2:22-39

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

22 And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord:

23 As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord:

24 And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons:

25 And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was in him.

26 And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.

27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law,

28 He also took him into his arms, and blessed God, and said:

29 Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace;

30 Because my eyes have seen thy salvation,

31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:

32 A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

33 And his father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him.

34 And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted;

35 And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.

36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; she was far advanced in years, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity.

37 And she was a widow until fourscore and four years; who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day.

38 Now she, at the same hour, coming in, confessed to the Lord; and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel.

39 And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their city Nazareth.

40 And the child grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom; and the grace of God was in him.

Other Scriptures:

Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7, 8, 9, 10; Hebrews 2:14-18;

Introduction

The Feast of the Presentation, often called Candlemas, commemorates the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the presentation of Christ in the temple, which occurred 40 days after his birth as prescribed by Jewish law. According to the Mosaic law, a mother who had given birth to a boy was considered unclean for seven days. Also, she was to remain 33 days "in the blood of her purification." Luke tells us, quoting Exodus 13:2,12, that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem because every firstborn child was to be dedicated to the Lord. They also went to sacrifice a pair of doves or two young pigeons, showing that Mary and Joseph were poor. Once in the temple, Jesus was purified by the prayer of Simeon, in the presence of Anna the prophetess. Simeon, upon seeing the Messiah, gave thanks to the Lord, singing a hymn now called the Nunc Dimittis:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace,
your word has been fulfilled:
My own eyes have seen the salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

Simeon told Mary, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed." Simeon thus foreshadowed the crucifixion and the sorrows of Mary at seeing the death of her Son.

The name Candlemas comes from the activities associated with the feast. It came to be known as the Candle Mass. In the Western Church, a procession with lighted candles is the distinctive rite. According to post Vatican-II discipline, (if possible) the beeswax candles are to be blessed somewhere other than where the Mass is held. Often your local parish will hand out candles, or you may bring your own, to be blessed before the procession. These may be saved for later use in your home. After an antiphon, during which the candles held by the people are lighted, there is a procession into the church. During the procession to the church, the Nunc Dimittis is sung, with the antiphon "Lumen ad revelationem" (Luke 2:32). This procession into the church for Mass commemorates Christ's entrance into the temple. Since Vatican II, the feast is reckoned a feast of the Lord (as opposed to a feast of Mary), and officially designated "The presentation of the Lord."

History

According to Jewish law, the firstborn male child belonged to God, and the parents had to "buy him back" on the 40th day after his birth, by offering a sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons" (Luke 2:24) in the temple (thus the "presentation" of the child). On that same day, the mother would be ritually purified (thus the "purification").

Saint Mary and Saint Joseph kept this law, even though, since Saint Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Christ, she would not have had to go through ritual purification.

Egeria, writing around AD 380, attests to a feast of the Presentation in the Jerusalem Church. It was kept on February 14th. The day was kept by a procession to the Constantinian basilica of the Resurrection, with a homily on Luke 2:22-39. However, the feast had no proper name at this point; it was simply called the 40th day after Epiphany. This shows that the Jerusalem church celebrated Jesus' birth on the Epiphany Feast (as is common in some Eastern Churches today).

In his gospel, Luke recounts the story (Luke 2:22-39).

Originally, the feast was celebrated on February 14, the 40th day after Epiphany (January 6), because Christmas wasn't yet celebrated as its own feast, and so the Nativity, Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord(Theophany), and the feast celebrating Christ's first miracle at the wedding in Cana were all celebrated on the same day.

By the last quarter of the fourth century, however, the Church at Rome had begun to celebrate the Nativity on December 25, so the Feast of the Presentation was moved to February 2, 40 days later.

When Christ was presented in the temple, "there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25) When Saint Mary and Saint Joseph brought Christ to the temple, Simeon embraced the Child and prayed the Canticle of Simeon: "Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).

In regions where Christ's birth was celebrated on December 25th, the feast began to be celebrated on February 2nd, where it is kept in the West today. In 542, the Emperor Justinian introduced the feast to the entire Eastern Roman empire in thanksgiving for the end to a great pestilence afflicting the city of Constantinople. Perhaps this is when Pope Gregory I brought the feast to Rome. Either way, by the 7th century, it is contained in the Gelasianum Sacramentary. Pope Sergius (687-701) introduced the procession to the Candlemas service. The blessing of candles did not come into common use until the 11th century.

While some scholars have asserted that the Candlemas feast was developed in the Middle Ages to counteract the pagan feasts of Imbolc and Lupercalia, many scholars reject this, based on Medieval documents. While the feast does coincide with these two pagan holidays, the origins of the feast are based in Scriptural chronology. Some superstitions developed about Candlemas, including the belief that if one does not take down Christmas decorations by Candlemas, traces of the holly and berries will bring about the death of the person involved. In past times, Candlemas was sometimes viewed as the end of the Christmas season, although there doesn't seem to be strong evidence it was officially ever considered part of the Christmas season.

Candlemas Day was also the day when some cultures predicted weather patterns. Farmers believed that the remainder of winter would be the opposite of whatever the weather was like on Candlemas Day. An old English song goes:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.

Thus if the sun cast a shadow on Candlemas day, more winter was on the way; if there was no shadow, winter was thought to be ending soon. This practice led to the folklore behind "Groundhog's Day," which falls on Candlemas Day.

Today, the feast is still celebrated on February 14th in some Eastern Churches, including the Armenian Church, where the feast is called, "The Coming of the Son of God into the Temple." Most churches celebrate it on February 2nd.

Traditions, Symbols, & Typology

Traditions

Blessing of Beeswax Candles
Saving Blessed Candles for other Catholic uses
Burning Candles in Windows & Everywhere in the home
Easting Tamales and Hot Chocolates (Mexico) or Crepes (Europe)

Symbols

Blooming of Snowdrops (Galanthus Nivalis)
Candles

Old Testament Typology Foreshadowing the Annunciation

Presentation of Samuel in the Temple
Jacob's joy in seeing his son Joseph again

Prayers: 

Nunc Dimittis (Canticle of Simeon; Luke 2:29-32): "Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is Candlemas the end of the Christmas season?

Christmas ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is the Sunday after Epiphany. Candlemas seems to never have been officially part of the Catholic Christmas season. However given its proximity to Christmas and Epiphany, it is possible various cultures have associated it with Christmas. This may explain some of the customs that connect Candlemas and Christmas. 

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Last updated 01-14-2016.
 
 
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