Did you know it’s an ancient tradition—one that has fallen out of custom—to get candles blessed on the Feast of the Purification (February 2nd)? Yep. That’s why this day is often referred to as “Candlemas.” Cue the chorus of “ohhh!”
Its biblical roots
The feast of the Purification celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary’s obedience to the Mosaic law that said that a woman needed to go through a ritual purification in the Temple 40 days after the birth of a son (Leviticus 12:2-8). Thus, every February 2nd, exactly 40 days after Christmas (go ahead; you can count), Candlemas is celebrated.
We read the account in Luke 2:22-24, “And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
If you’re wondering where candles fit into the whole thing, look no further than the Holy Family’s encounter with St. Simeon at the Temple. The Holy Spirit had assured him that he would not die before seeing Christ and, upon seeing Jesus, exclaimed that Jesus was, “A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:32) Hence the candles and why we get them blessed on this day.
The symbolism of the candles
The blessing of candles at the Purification is deeply rooted in Church History: since the 7th century, beeswax candles have been blessed on Candlemas. Candles made with beeswax are the only ones that should be blessed. Although they are harder to find these days, they must have at least fifty-one percent beeswax (the higher the percentage of beeswax in each candle, the better). The reason for this is because of the symbolism of wax and its connection to virginity. The wax, extracted by virgin bees from flowers symbolizes the pure flesh of Jesus, received from his virginal Mother. St. Anselm further explains the wick within the candle symbolizes the soul of Christ and the flame symbolizes is his divinity.
How to have them blessed
If you attend a traditional parish, you probably already know your parish’s Candlemas schedule; when they will bless the candles and specifics for your particular parish. There will most likely be a procession with the candles lit following the blessing of the candles. At the very least, if a procession is not possible, you will hear the Canticle of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32).
If you don’t attend a traditional parish or one that already has this practice in place, don’t despair! Thankfully, since Candlemas will fall on a Sunday this year, there will be plenty of opportunities to seek a parish that may do these blessings. Or, you can ask your parish priest about it.
A few years ago, my (then) parish didn’t practice this custom but I still asked. Thankfully, one of them (who was also my spiritual director at the time), said he would bless any candles brought to Mass on that day. So, I did. I was the only person to do it that year. The following year, however, the custom stuck without my asking and parishioners were encouraged to bring candles for a blessing a week before the feast. Don’t be afraid to ask!
I had them blessed. Now what?
Traditionally, these Candlemas candles can be used during storms, during troubled times, during times of illness, and after dusk on All Souls’ Day. During particularly troublesome storms, you can light one of these candles and pray the following prayer (making the Sign of the Cross whenever you see a cross below):
“Jesus Christ a King of Glory has come in Peace.+ God became man, + and the Word was made flesh.+ Christ was born of a Virgin.+ Christ suffered.+ Christ was crucified.+ Christ died.+ Christ rose from the dead.+ Christ ascended into Heaven.+ Christ conquers.+ Christ reigns.+ Christ commands.+
May Christ protect us from all storms and lightning. + Christ went through their midst in Peace, + and the Word was made Flesh.+ Christ is with us with Mary.+ Flee you enemy spirits because the Lion of the Generation of Juda, the Root David, has won.+ Holy God! + Holy Powerful God! + Holy Immortal God! + Have mercy on us. Amen.”
As you can see, this one of those somewhat forgotten Catholic traditions that is not only beautiful but is also rich with symbolism and liturgically appropriate. I mean, can you think of a better way to end Christmastide (for those who celebrate through Candlemas)? Now that you know the history and symbolism, what are you waiting for? Don’t miss out on this lovely tradition. Get yourself some candles (made of 51%—or more—beeswax) and find yourself a parish (or priest/deacon) that will be blessing them this weekend!
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