Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Luke 1:42).
Today we celebrate the ancient feast of Candlemas, the 40th day since the Solemnity of Christmas. While in the 1962 calendar today is named “The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary” and “The Presentation of the Lord” in the 1969 reformed calendar, it has not lost the use of its ancient title of Candlemas in either form of the liturgy. The church celebrates many other “masses” such at Michaelmas, Martinmas, and obviously, Christmas. Yet Candlemas stands alone as the one named after an object, named after a tool or something which was not made for the sake of itself unlike humanity.
So, why are candles blessed on this day? For what reason does the church place such an emphasis on these waxy torches? Candles long have held a place of significance in traditional liturgies. In the Eastern Church, candles are reserved for monumental events such as apostolic blessings and Pascha while oil lamps are more frequently used for the daily Divine Liturgy and private devotionals. Though we use candles more liberally in the Western Church we ought not to diminish their symbolism because of it. We must know what a candle is in order to understand its value.
Candles burn. This is obvious, but it needs to be said for the reason we create candles to begin with is for the purpose of burning them. Even when we produce scented candles, the aromas are dispersed by burning them. So we produce a good only to be consumed in heat. But we do not burn candles to merely gaze upon them as they melt into oblivion. What a strange practice that would be! No. We burn them for light, a light both practical and beautiful. They say that the light of a single flame can be seen 1.6 miles away when in complete darkness. In fact, if the candle was theoretically viewed in a thinner atmosphere or a vacuum it could be seen from much, much further.
Yet what is a candle without its flame? For even our Lord says, “No man lighteth a candle, and putteth it in a hidden place, nore under a bushel; but upon a candlestick, that they that come in, may see the light” (Luke 11:33). A candle is useless without a spark, a mere decoration but one with great potential. Yet today is not Flame-mas or Lamp-mas but Candlemas. There is something about the candle without the flame even though the flame fulfills it. Candles are composed of wax, traditionally of beeswax. Bees work hard and long to build their hives. We even describe people who are constantly working as bees. Yet their work is then taken from them, stripped from it original use for the betterment of men. Does not our Lord do the same with us? We put much work into many tasks and our Lord more often then not takes it from us in order to produce a good much greater than ours.
These same worker bees are interestingly enough virgins! Yes! What a strange concept of virgin beasts, but in the hierarchy of bees, the worker bees never mate with the queen bee. They are created for the purpose of tirelessly devoting themselves to the good of the hive. So it is not the queen we acknowledge for the wax, it is the lowly virgins. Our Lady too brought forth to mankind fruit, a Fruit so precious from the stock of Jesse. In her womb and from her very flesh was knit the Light of the World (Matthew 5:14).
Today in the gospel Simeon exclaims his canticle with utmost joy:
Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).
A light has been revealed this day to the world. Simeon whose name in Hebrew שִׁמְעוֹן means “listen.” He has heard the whisper of the Lord and now at last has seen the Flicker of Hope which is to set the world ablaze. Christ is the Candle of Candlemas. “Again therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying: I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). He is the Fruit of the Virgin and the Light of the Gentiles (Isaiah 7:14, 49:6). It is then fitting that this is the feast to end the season of Christmas. We recall the spark of the Annunciation, the light of Christmas, and the wax of Candlemas.
Today, for hopefully now obvious but magnificent reasons, the Church celebrates the World Day of Consecrated life. We thank the many men and women who, in imitation of our Blessed Lady, have surrendered their lives to the Father in ceaselessly producing virginal oblations for the good of the world and the glory of God (Romans 12:1). Let us not forget that every candle is consumed by its flame. So too I pray we all might be consumed by that Fire of Love which burn most intensely before Blessed Simeon that day (Hebrews 12:29). To you and your loved ones, a blessed Candlemas and a very merry Christmas!