Forty days have passed since the Christ Child was born. According to Jewish law, His Blessed Mother went to the temple in Jerusalem to receive the prescribed purification rites. Her Spouse marked the occasion by giving the poor man’s offering of two doves.
But the Child did not pass unnoticed: He was recognized by Simeon, an old man whom God had promised that he should not die until he had seen the Messiah. When Simeon saw this Baby he knew it was the One for Whom he had waited. Then this humble, patient, faithful elder gave us one of the most beautiful prayers in Scripture, and foresaw the Passion that would rend Our Mother’s immaculate heart.
You’ll find this moment preserved in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Simeon, now happily prepared for his own death, acknowledges the Child in his arms as a “light”. Indeed, Christ would later refer to Himself as the “light of the world” (John 8:12). For this reason, on this Feast of the Presentation, the Church has a beautiful old custom of blessing those simple household goods that lit homes for centuries: candles.
Though most of us no longer need them as our sole source of illumination, we do use candles often as sacramentals. In fact, candles – which are used in the administration of every Sacrament except confession – have a symbolism of their own. Traditionally the Church has used candles made of beeswax (or, more recently, at least 51% beeswax) for the golden wax is produced by the labors of virgin worker bees. The sweet-smelling result is a reminder of Christ’s purity and Virgin Birth. In a remarkable act of self-sacrifice it consumes itself as it burns, while the spreading flame is the Gospel offered to all people.
Candlemas, as this occasion is sometimes called, is a nourishing feast for Catholic family life. It is the official end of Christmas, so after tomorrow we’ll put away the Crèche and bury St. Lucy’s wheat. But, armed with a cupboard full of blessed candles, we’ll go forth and spread the good news of the Incarnation into every cranny of our lives in the coming year. We’ll light them on Easter, on feast days and Namedays. We’ll light them every Thursday when we gather to pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart. We’ll light them in every season, in times of blessing and – God help us! – in times of need. For the Child Simeon held is Emmanuel, “God with us”; and He will stay in our very homes and light our lives if we invite Him.
So be sure to ask to have your candles blessed today, and make use of them in your home throughout the year. Light them when you pray, and make them a physical reminder of Our Lord’s presence among your family. They will be a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, now and always.
Now, Master, you let your servant go in peace. You have fulfilled your promise.
My own eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples.
A light to bring the Gentiles from darkness; the glory of your people Israel.