Candlemas falls on the 2nd of February and it marks the completion of forty days since the birth of Jesus, when Joseph took Mary to the temple in Jerusalem. The requirement in Levitical law was for Mary to be ‘cleansed’‚ the completion of her purification following childbirth. As Jesus was Mary’s first son, it had to happen 40 days after his birth. Until that day, she could touch no holy thing nor enter the sanctuary. Also echoing the story of Abraham and Isaac, a sacrifice was to be offered for the first born son, to in effect buy him back from God. For a poor family like Mary and Joseph it was a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. This sacrifice was to be offered at least 30 days after circumcision. We mark that event on 1st January so technically Jesus could have been lifted high by Simeon on 30th January, however as Mary was also present then the events must have occurred at least 40 days after Jesus’ birth, hence 2nd of February. Of course in Jesus’ case this sacrifice was to be proved as redundant as he became the Lamb of the Abraham and Isaac story and the sacrifice for the sins of the world.
When the Holy Family arrived at the Temple, Simeon on seeing them, praised God and acclaimed the infant as ‘the light to enlighten the nations’‚ while the prophet Anna gave thanks and proclaimed him her Redeemer. This image of Light redeeming darkness began during Advent as week by week another candle was lit, on Christmas Day itself and throughout the Christmas season the celebration of the Light of the World finally arriving climaxes especially with John in his glorious first chapter telling us how the darkness of the world was overcome by the Light of the Word.
Candlemas marks a pivotal point in the Christian year Simenon and Anna turn our faces away from a birth and towards a death. Although we continue in the season of Epiphany for a few more weeks, the greater season of Christmas is ends here. The readings and theme moves away from celebration of new beginnings and towards contemplation of endings and our humanity.
For Simeon and Anna, getting on in years, it was a reminder that death follows life but now for them it wouldn’t be something shrouded in darkness but rather bathed in light.
For Jesus it is an early reminder that he was born to die.
For Mary it is another wonder to ponder in her heart.
Sophronius of Jerusalem and Egyptian monk wrote;
‘The God-bearer, the most pure Virgin, carried the true Light in her arms and brought him to help those who lay in darkness. In the same way, we too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.’ The stable is left to the ox and ass once more the Holy Family have moved on and so must we, Candlemas is an encouragement for us to be Christ’s lights in the world for His is a light that can never be put out we. Like Simeon and Anna our time on earth is limited we don’t know when it will come to an end, but like them we can rejoice that we have seen the Light of the World, we know that God has Redeemed all people, like them we should treasure that Light and hold it high for the whole world to see. Candlemas gets its name from the custom of blessing the candles to be used in the church for the following year, the other names for the festival are: The Purification of Mary and The Presentation of our Lord at the Temple.