02 February 2015

Hymns and readings for the Feast of
the Presentation and Candlemas

‘Candlemas 2012’ (York Minster) by Susan Hufton … from the exhibition ‘Holy Writ’ at Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014) … the cover illustration on this evening’s brochure

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas, and this evening [2 February 2015], I am presiding at the Candlemas Procession and Eucharist in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute at 5 p.m.

In the ‘Introduction and welcome’ in this evening’s brochure, I write:

This evening we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known popularly as Candlemas. This feast falls forty days after Christmas when, 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. We now shift from the cradle to the cross, from Christmas to Passiontide – Ash Wednesday and Lent are only 16 days away. 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 readings this evening are: Malachi 3: 1-5; Psalm 24: 1-10; Hebrews 2: 14-18; Luke 2: 22-40.

Clifton Campville and Comberford ... two neighbouring parishes named on a hassock in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

We begin our celebration this evening singing as the Processional Hymn ‘In his temple now behold him’ (Irish Church Hymnal 193). This hymn was written by Canon Henry John Pye (1827-1903), Rector of Clifton-Campville, Staffordshire, where he was also Lord of the Manor, and a canon of Lichfield Cathedral. Born in Chacombe Banbury Priory, Northamptonshire, on 31 January 1827, he was a grandson of Henry James Pye (1745-1813), Poet Laureate (1790-1813), and son-in-law of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.

He was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge (BA, 1848; MA 1852), and was ordained deacon in 1850, and priest in 1851. He first served as Curate of Cuddesdon, outside Oxford (1850-1851), where Bishop Wilbeforce lived. On 21 October 1851, he married Emily Charlotte Wilberforce. From 1851-1868, he was Rector of Clifton Campville in the Diocese of Lichfield and Prebendary of Handsacre (1865-1868) in Lichfield Cathedral. While he was Rector of Clifton Campville, he commissioned George Edmund Street, the Gothic Revival architect, to restore Saint Andrew’s, the parish church. Street, who is known in Ireland for the restoration of Christ Church Cathedral and in England for the Law Courts in London, had designed Wilbeforce's new theological college in Cuddesdon.

In 1868, Henry, his wife Emily, and his brother and sister, joined the Roman Catholic Church. Pye later turned to the law: he was admitted at the Inner Temple in 1873 and was called to the bar in 1876. He died in Tamworth on 3 January 1903, and the Clifton Campville manor and hall were sold in 1906.

The tune for this hymn, Alleluia, Dulce Carmen, was arranged by Samuel Webbe, and is often associated with the hymn Tantum Ergo by Saint Thomas Aquinas.

The Words of welcome this evening are:

“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.”

We sing the canticle Gloria in Excelsis as the hymn ‘Glory in the highest to the God of heaven!’ (Hymn 693), was written in 1976 by the Revd Christopher Idle. The tune ‘Cuddesdon,’ by the Revd William H Ferguson, is named after the theological college outside Oxford which was founded by Canon Pye’s father-in-law, Bishop Wilberforce.

The Gradual is Hymn 195, ‘Lord, the light of your love is shining,’ is by Graham Kendrick.

The Offertory Hymn, ‘Of the Father’s heart begotten’ (Hymn 175), is the oldest hymn in the Irish Church Hymnal, written by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius in the fourth or fifth century as a riposte to the Arian heresy. This translation is by the Revd John Mason Neale and the Revd Sir Henry Williams Baker, while the tune is based on an arrangement by the Revd Thomas Helmore, a former minor canon of Lichfield Cathedral and curate of Saint Michael’s, Lichfield, who also helped Neale to write ‘Good King Wenceslas.’

As we go in procession to the door of the church, we sing the canticle Nunc Dimittis as Hymn 691, ‘Faithful vigil ended.’ This hymn-canticle was written by Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith while he was on holiday in 1967 to complement his paraphrase of the canticle Magnificat, ‘Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord’ (Hymn 712).

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ was presented in the Temple
and acclaimed the glory of Israel
and the light of the nations:
grant that in him we may be presented to you
and in the world may reflect his glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God, the springing source of everlasting light,
pour into the hearts of your faithful people
the brilliance of your eternal splendour,
that we, who by these kindling flames
light up this temple to your glory,
may have the darkness of our souls dispelled,
and so be counted worthy to stand before you
in that eternal temple where you live and reign,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

‘Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace’ – A window in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford) … a photograph in this evening’s brochure

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