Some Thoughts on Candlemass    
Fr. Neil Kelley
Illustrated with images of our celebrations at St Faith's in recent years

for images of the service on February 1st, 2011,
and the text of the sermon preached.
Click here
For pictures of the service and lunch
on Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

The Feast we celebrate at the beginning of February has no fewer than four different names. Each name recalls a different aspect of this Feast.

First of all, the Feast is called the PRESENTATION OF CHRIST.
This is because it commemorates the Presentation of Christ by His Mother in the Temple at Jerusalem exactly forty days after His Birth.
In the Temple Christ was carried in the arms of the Righteous Simeon and watched over by the Prophetess Anna.
This Feast is yet more proof that the Son of God truly became man. An infant, not a spirit or an angel, is brought to the Temple.

This meeting between the Righteous Simeon and Anna and the Saviour is why this Feast has another name: THE MEETING OF THE LORD.
According to age-old tradition, Simeon was one of those seventy translators who, in the third century before Christ,
 had translated the Scriptures of the Old Testament into Greek.
Coming to the words in the seventh chapter of Isaiah the Prophet, he had been awestruck by the affirmation that a Virgin would give birth.

The Holy Spirit had told him that he would live until he saw these words fulfilled.
At the Presentation, which is the fulfilment of these words, the aged Simeon utters the words,
familiar to those of us who have been brought up on Evensong:
‘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, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel’.

Soon after uttering these words, he reposed, as did the Righteous Anna, who had also been waiting
o see the fulfilment of the promise of the Holy Spirit that she too would see the Messiah in great old age.

According to the Old Testament, the Jews were commanded to present their male children
at the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after their Birth.
This was to give thanks to God and pray for the purification of the mother and health of the child,
for it was considered that after the vital forty-day period it was almost certain that all mortal danger was passed.
This is why this Feast has yet another name, found in the Church of England’s ‘Book of Common Prayer’:

In past years in the Church of England, we have had the custom of ‘churching’, which is similar to this rite of purification of the mother,
although in all my  years of being ordained I have only once had a request for this service (contained within the Book of Common Prayer). 
When the Alternative Service Book was introduced in 1980 the ‘Churching of Women’ was replaced with a rather more positive
‘Thanksgiving for the Birth of a Child’ service in which the emphasis was not on being ‘made clean’ but rather on  both parents giving thanks.

There is also a fourth name for this feast — CANDLEMASS.
This name was given to this Feast in memory of the ancient custom of lighting candles at it,
which recalls the lights in the Temple at Jerusalem.
The custom spread from Rome even to western parts of Russia and in the Russian Orthodox service-books
there is a prayer for the blessing of candles on this day.
For many years at S. Faith’s the blessing of candles has been part of the Candlemass liturgy.

But what does this Feast mean for us today?
Since it is exactly forty days since Christmas, it is time for us to think
about the last forty days and ask ourselves some questions:
What, in our day, can we present to the Temple of Christ, the Church?
In what condition do we present our souls to Christ? (Do we actually think that much about our souls?)
 What sacrifices have we made in the last forty days? Have we thanked God for all that we have received?
What has changed in our way of life since the Birth of Christ forty days ago? What progress has been made?

Whatever our answers to these questions, on this, the Feast of the Meeting of Christ, one thing is certain:
 If we are not spiritually prepared to meet Christ, then we shall never meet Him.

The Opening Prayer appointed for the Feast

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.

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