Medieval English word formerly used to designate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, on which day candles are blessed. The name itself captured the lighting of candles during Mass to mark the light of Christ coming to the world. Marked for most of Christian history on
February 2, the narrative of the presentation of the Lord (Lk 2:22–38) was earlier proclaimed on February 14. Before Rome's nativity date, December 25, was widely received, the celebration of the birth was observed in Eastern churches as one of a few manifestations on the feast of Epiphany, then January 6. The two dates for Candlemas, earlier February 14 and later February 2, were derived from the 40-day span between the nativity of Jesus and the feast of his parents' presentation of him in the Temple. (February 14 marked the forty days between Epiphany and the presentation feast; February 2 marks the same span between Christmas and the presentation.)
The 40-day span between the two is itself based on a wedding of an Old Testament law and a New Testament narrative. The Book of Leviticus (12:2–8) prescribes that "a woman who gives birth to a male child is unclean for seven days and is to remain in the blood of her purification for 33 days." The total, 40 days, is the chronology that is applied to the Lukan narrative of Mary presenting the child Jesus in the Temple. In the Gospel of Luke the themes of purification of Mary and presentation of Christ are presented along with Simeon's "meeting" Christ and his oracle forseeing suffering in Christ's life (Lk 2:22–40).
Origins. The earliest evidence comes from the late fourth-century travel-diary of the pilgrim Egeria, who testified from Jerusalem:
Note that the fortieth day after Epiphany is observed here with special magnificence. On that day they assemble at the place of the resurrection (the "Anastasis"). Everyone gathers, and things are done with the same solemnity as at the feast of Easter. All the presbyters preach first, then the bishop, and they interpret the passage from the Gospel about Joseph and Mary taking the Lord to the Temple, and about Simeon and the prophetess Anna, daughter of Phanuel, seeing the Lord, and about the sacrifice offered by his parents. When all the rest is done in the proper way, they celebrate the sacrament and have their dismissal (chapter 26).
The original Eastern provenance is further supported by the reception of the Greek name for the feast, hypapante kuriou, meaning "meeting of the Lord," in the earliest Latin sources. Later this was rendered into Latin words as occursus domini, referring to the meeting of the infant Lord with Simeon and Anna. It took centuries before the feast was received throughout the Western churches.
Customs. In the West, the feast and its procession spread gradually, acquiring candle-blessing prayers in the ninth century, and blessing and distribution of candles with the procession in the tenth. The liturgical sources indicate there was great variety in the way the feast was celebrated. In general, there is a shift in emphasis of the feast, from the presentation of the Lord to the purification of Mary. As the purification theme came to dominate, it acquired a more penitential emphasis in many places.
The reform of the calendar after Vatican II returned to the Christological emphasis of the feast, namely the Presentation of the Lord. It simplified the blessing and procession with candles, added a reading from the Letter to the Hebrews to the lectionary, and restored the full account of Lk 2:22–40, now including Anna.
Bibliography: k. stevenson, "Origins and Developments of Candlemas: A Struggle for Identity and Coherence?" Time and Community, ed. j. n. alexander (Washington, D.C. 1990) 43–76. g. mealo, "Presentación del Señor," Nuovo dizionario di mariologia (Turin 1985) 1654–62. h. urs von balthasar, The Threefold Garland: The World's Salvation in Mary's Prayer (San Francisco 1982) 51–57.
[m. f. connell]
if Candlemas day be sunny and bright, winter will have another flight; if Candlemas day be cloudy with rain, winter is gone, and won't come again traditional rhyme. It is recorded in this form from the late 17th century, but the weather tradition associated with the day is recorded from the early 16th century. In North America, 2 February is known as Groundhog Day for a similar reason.
Candlemas day, put beans in the clay; put candles and candlesticks away the feast of Candlemas, was the traditionally time for planting beans; saying recorded from the late 17th century.
Can·dle·mas / ˈkandlməs/ • n. a Christian festival held on February 2 to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary (after childbirth, according to Jewish law) and the presentation of Christ in the Temple.