Thank you to Fr. Wayne McNamara, priest of Christ the King Anglican Church, for this interview regarding a theology of Candlemas. He currently serves on the Board of Foreign Missions for the Reformed Episcopal Church, and is the co-founder of Dominion Academy of Dayton where he teaches Bible Survey Classes. He has four children and four grandchildren with his wife Sandy.
What is Candlemas and what does it celebrate?
February 2nd is Candlemas. It is also known as The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary because both events occurred the same Day – 40 days after the Nativity of Christ.
Aesthetically and theologically Candlemas is a beautiful day for many reasons:
1. Light! We celebrate three ‘festivals of light’ during the darkest time of year. The first two are Nativity and Epiphany. Candlemas brings to a close the focus on the revealing of Jesus in His infancy.
2. Candles. To celebrate the light, since the 4th century (300s), special candles are lit during communion services that day and all the parish Church candles are blessed (set apart) to remind us of this day. The tradition grew and people brought their candles from home to be blessed so that now each time a candle is lit we remember the light of Christ coming into the world.
3. February second is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It was once called Cross Day because it was the day we cross from Winter to Spring (or Summer to Fall in the Southern Hemisphere.)
4. The Lord Jesus is presented by Joseph and Mary to the Temple and a godly priest named Simeon is the one who sees Him. His prophetic words are a beautiful song we call the Nunc Dimittus which we sing during Evening Prayer:
Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace
According to Thy Word.
For mine eyes have seen
Which Thou hast prepared
Before the face of all people,
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles
And a glory to Thy people Israel.
Simeon’s words are, if you will, our last look back at Christmas and Epiphany.
His next words turn our heads rather sharply to the season ahead, to the Passion and Pascha (Easter):
“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which will be spoken against; (yea, and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also,) that th thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
We might speak of all the Sundays before Candlemas as “Sundays of the Epiphany” and the Sundays after as “Sundays leading to Lent”. Because Candlemas is a fixed feast and Pascha a movable one the number of Sundays after vary, but always it remains the day of redirection for this part of our year.
5. Jesus was redeemed as a firstborn Son according to His own Words in Exodus 13 and Numbers 18. He fulfilled the Law in every respect (because His parents were faithful). He is the first born and we are the firstfruits that follow. The events that make this all real are still looming in the Church year.
6. The Purification of Mary after 40 days was also required in Leviticus 12:2-8. Jesus was born into a godly, faithful, and observant Jewish family. The command is given for many reasons which we will not approach here, but the need to be purified is perhaps the central theme of our Lenten Journey soon to be undertaken. The promise of new and holy seed and the regeneration are wrapped up here.
What is the relationship of Candlemas to Epiphany and Christmas?
Candlemas is the third of three ‘festivals of light’ in the darkest time of year for most Christians.
On Christmas day the arrival of the Lord is announced by angels to shepherds who find the newborn Jesus and then testify about all that they have seen and heard. In the darkness of night, Jesus, the light of the world leaves a dark womb and is born into the world which lay in darkness and the shadow of death.
On the Epiphany we mark the time, sometime in the first two years of our Saviour’s birth, when Jesus is revealed to the magi. These men (we know not how many) followed the special star created by God to the place where Jesus was, were Gentiles. They represent all Gentiles who, in the time of the Old Covenant lived in gross darkness. These wise men come and worship the young King and offer Him lavish royal gifts.
On Candlemas, Jesus is revealed to Simeon and Anna in the Temple. Simeon says, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which you have set before all men.” By this he means that at last God brought about the fulfillment of the promises of God articulated in the Prophets which have been since the world began. The Light of Life would enlighten every man and the mission of God would take His disciples into all the world.
Why do you think it is important for the modern church to recover the feast of Candlemas?
Candlemas articulates the necessary future of this beautiful Light coming into the world. Our celebrations so far have dwelt on the joyful implications of the Son of God’s arrival, our redemption, salvation, and deliverance. Candlemas reiterates in a pointed way that the coming of the Lord includes difficult things – the persecutions of Jesus in His ministry and the call of the Christ to suffer the Cross. Candlemas rounds our our thoughts regarding the significance of the Word become flesh, and moves us forward to Lent.