Today marks the end of the Christmas season, but before taking down the tree and putting away the crib for another year, we have the beautiful feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary or Candlemas.
The feast commemorates the purification of Our Lady after childbirth and the presentation of the Lord in the Temple. In the 7th century, a nighttime penitential procession to St Mary Major was instituted. Candles were blessed and distributed for the procession and this custom is retained in the Traditional Latin Mass today, symbolising that in the incarnation of the Messiah is the light to illumine the gentiles and the glory of His people Israel.
Mass begins with the blessing of Candles as the choir sings the beautiful responsory Lumen et Revelationem Gentium which alternates with the Nunc Dimitis. The Nunc Dimitis, the canticle at compline each evening, is the song of Holy Simeon who, in the words of the communion antiphon of today’s Mass ‘received an answer from the Holy Ghost that he should not see death until he had seen the Christ of the Lord’. It is to this Holy Priest that Mary and Joseph present the child Jesus in the temple.
Thus he sings,
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace :according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation;
Which thou hast prepared :before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles :and to be the glory of thy people Israel
Luke 2.29-32 found in the Gospel of today’s Mass.
Take the time today to meditate on Simeon’s prayer. Over the Christmas season, we too have seen afresh the light of the incarnation, the revelation of the Face of God held up by Our Lady, the living monstrance, for us to adore and be enlightened, transformed. Let us rest a while longer in the fullness of these mysteries before our gaze turns towards the cross in the weeks to come.