Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Celebrating Candlemas after darkness falls

The Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple ... a stained glass window in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Tomorrow [2 February] is the Feast of Candlemas or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

We are marking Candlemas in the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute this evening [1 February] at our Sung Eucharist at 5 p.m.

Giovanni Bellini, Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, (c. 1470), Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice

The special booklet produced for this Candlemas Eucharist includes the following:

Introduction and welcome

Welcome to the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute as we observe the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple – normally kept on 2 February.

This feast falls forty days after Christmas and according to traditional religious law, the Virgin Mary, the mother of the Christ-Child, presents her first-born to the priest in the Temple in Jerusalem. Because the Holy Family was poor, they offered a turtle dove and two pigeons as a submission and a sacrifice.

This is a feast rich in meaning, with several related themes running through it – presentation, purification, meeting, and light for the world. The several names by which this day has been known throughout Christian history illustrate just how much this feast has to teach and to celebrate. These names include the Presentation, and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, although today we talk more commonly of the Feast of Candlemas.

The true meaning of Candlemas is found in its “bitter-sweet” nature. It is a feast day, and the revelation of the Christ Child in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing. Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will piece Mary’s heart, lead on to the Passion and Easter, as the Gospel according to Saint Luke makes clear:

“… This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Candlemas is the climax of the Christmas and Epiphany season, the last great festival of the Christmas cycle. As we bring our Christmas celebrations to a close, this day is a real pivotal point in the Christian year, for we now shift from the cradle to the cross, from Christmas to Passiontide – Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent are only three weeks away from today.

In this shift of mood, devotion and liturgy, we take with us the light of Christ – and so the ceremony of light and the blessing of candles. This is a sure promise that Christ is the eternal light and salvation of all humanity, throughout all ages.

May you know the peace and light of Christ always.

– Patrick Comerford

The bidding prayer says:

Dear friends: forty days ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we recall the day on which he was presented in the Temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people.

As a sign of his coming among us, his mother was purified, as we now come to him for cleansing. In their old age, Simeon and Anna recognised him as their Lord, as we today sing of his glory. In this Eucharist, we celebrate both the joy of his coming and his searching judgment, looking back to the day of his birth and forward to the coming days of his passion.

The service booklet also includes:

A Song for Simeon, T.S. Eliot

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have taken and given honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word,
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin