This morning the monastic community and our guests from the Retreat House celebrated the Blessing of Candles and Mass for the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. This morning, the Abbot blessed at that liturgy our supply of candles for the coming year. The one big exception is the Paschal Candle which is consecrated at the Easter Vigil itself.
Suzanne Ziemer, one of our Lay Cistercians provides below some background on the Feast. Suzanne also provides the monthly A Word from the Cistercian Fathers.
The Feast of the Presentation/The Feast of the Purification/Candlemas Day
Luke 2 recounts the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. In the East and early Middle Ages, the feast was called Hypapante or “The Meeting”; the meeting between Jesus, Simeon and Anna. Simeon’s Canticle or prayer, the Nunc Dimittis—Lord, now you let your servant go in peace–is prayed each day by the Church as part of its Night Prayer (Compline).
Later, when the feast was adopted in the Western Church, the increasing devotion to the Blessed Mother made it a day to honor her–the Purification, the reason for the presentation in the Temple. In common with all Jewish mothers, Mary was excluded from public worship for 40 days after the birth of her child; after 40 days, Mary took the child to the Temple. And, today, 40 days after Christmas, we celebrate the feast not primarily as a Marian feast but as the Presentation of the Lord.
The English name, Candlemas (“Candle Mass”) comes from the practice that Mass was often preceded by the blessing and distribution of candles–probably symbolizing Christ’s role as the light of the world. In some parts of the world this feast is still considered the last day of the Christmas Season.
Finally on a Cistercian note and from a footnote in Cistercian Fathers 8: a significant element in the liturgy was the carrying of lighted candles. The monks received newly-blessed candles which they lighted from the Paschal Candle kept in the sanctuary. They carried the burning lights in their hands during the procession through the cloisters. Finally the monks brought their lighted candles, after the proclamation of the Gospel which brought out their significance, to the altar to be offered in union with the sacrifice. This is one of the oldest processions in the Cistercian liturgy and was perhaps carried on without interruption from the days of Molesme.