February 2, 2023
While most of us in the States may be disappointed because our favorite groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow today, which tradition says means six more weeks of winter, we might be consoled by remembering that, in the Roman Catholic Church, today is also Candlemas, the feast day of the Presentation of our Lord. Candlemas commemorates the presentation of the infant Christ in the temple forty days after his birth, following Mosaic Law. His parents, Mary and Joseph, traveled to the temple to offer two turtledoves, the sacrifice prescribed for the poor. In addition, they presented and dedicated Jesus to God, another Mosaic requirement for firstborn sons. This poignant story can be found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2.
In the Church, Candlemas is the day that all the candles that will be used for worship in the coming year are blessed (candles+Mass). People are invited to bring their own candles from home to be blessed, candles that will be used for all sorts of purposes in the coming year, candles whose light reminds us of old Simeon’s prophecy of Jesus on that long ago day:
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. (Luke 2:29–32)
I am not Catholic, but I am drawn to light and to its mysteries in all its many forms, from the tiny glow of a burning candlewick to the jumping, dancing flames in a fireplace, to the brilliant stars speckling a black night. Candlelight grounds me and also helps me become receptive to what is being whispered. The idea of blessing, honoring, and acknowledging candles resonates with me, perhaps because in no other time in my life have I witnessed so many shadows: shadows of political divisiveness, of falsehoods, of prejudice, of superiority, of poverty, of brokenness, of destruction, of war. If I could, I’d hand candles to every single person in the world as power against the dark.
The one verse of the New Testament that has been, and continues to be, an anchor in my life is “The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5). I also believe in the truth that the “Light came for all people,” (John 1:4), not just a select few, and that we all have within us a spirit that will not allow our light to be extinguished.
So today, with the gray face of Winter pressed to my window for the fifth day in a row, its tears trekking down the cold panes, I honor candles and extend my candle to light yours. Happy Candlemas! ~ Rosemary
A Blessing for Candles
Let our candles be blessed with special intention
with appreciation for all that they are—
slender and tall like regal queens
squat and round like serving maids
short burning votives and tea candles,
brief sighs in the dark,
long glowing pillars set in lanterns
on porches that beckon
Let our candles be blessed—scented or no—
poured into tins of metal and glass jars of color
or plain molds of plastic sold at the dollar store,
settled in candelabras as witnesses to marriage
as symbols of new life at births
as signs of love shimmering on a dinner table
as faithful companions to light the way across
the River Styx.
Let our candles be blessed, those flickers
of light that glow across window panes
on dreary winter days, whispering silence,
reminding passersby that they are not alone,
candles that blaze on birthdays and anniversaries
as harbingers of joy,
candles that we hover near during times of vigil
and moments of prayer reminding us
of holy Presence and the face Divine.
Let our candles be blessed with intention
with affirmation for the light that shines on
in the darkness, the light that comes into
this world, the light that blazes
for all people.
© Rosemary McMahan
Photo credit: Rosemary McMahan