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Purification of the Virgin


Purification of the Virgin

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Candlemas (Russian: Сретение Господне, Sretenye Gospodnye, Spanish: Candelaria) is a Christian feast commemorating the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple.

Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, this title of the feast has been suppressed in favor of the Presentation of the Lord with references to candles and the purification of Mary de-emphasized in favor of the Prophecy of Simeon.

Candlemas was the last feast in the Christian year that was dated by reference to Christmas; subsequent moveable feasts are calculated with reference to Easter. Prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Candlemas marked the end of the Christmas and Epiphany season, although February 2 can fall during the pre-Lenten season (causing omission of "Alleluia" in the liturgy) if Easter falls early enough. The present calendar has the Saturday before the Baptism of the Lord as the final day of the Christmas liturgical season.

"Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and mistletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall"
— Robert Herrick (1591–1674), "Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve"

The term "Candlemas" refers to the practice found in former Roman Missals whereby a priest on February 2 would bless the candles for use during the year (said candles must be of beeswax). This practice has generally fallen out of use.



The feast of the Purification of the Virgin is observed by the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches on February 15 in the Julian Calendar, which, from 1900 to 2100, falls on February 2 in the Gregorian calendar. This feast is known as the Presentation of the Lord in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. In Eastern Orthodoxy it is known as The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord and Savior in the Temple, and in Anglican Churches it is known by various names, including The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in The Temple (ECUSA), Presentation of Our Lord (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Anglican Church of Canada), and The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Church of England and Anglican Church of Australia).

The date of Candlemas is established by the date set for the Nativity of Jesus, for it comes 40 days afterwards. Under Mosaic law, a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain for three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification." Candlemas therefore corresponds to the day on which Mary, according to Jewish law (see Leviticus 12:2–8), should have attended a ceremony of ritual purification. The gospel of Luke 2:22–39 relates that Mary was purified according to the religious law, followed by Jesus's presentation in the Jerusalem temple, and this explains the formal names given to the festival.

In the West, the date of Christmas is now fixed at December 25, and the Presentation therefore falls on the following February 2. The dating is identical among Orthodox Christians, except that the ecclesiastic December 25 of most Orthodox Christians falls on January 7 of the civil calendar due to a theological dispute related to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, meaning that most Orthodox Christians celebrate the feast on February 15. In the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Feast, called "The Coming of the Son of God into the Temple", is also celebrated on February 15.


The earliest reference to a celebration was when the intrepid pilgrim nun Egeria, travelling in the Holy Land, 381–384 AD, reported that February 14 was a day solemnly kept in Jerusalem with a procession to Constantine's Basilica of the Resurrection, a homily on Luke 2:22 (which makes the occasion perfectly clear), and a Liturgy. This so-called Itinerarium Peregrinatio ("Pilgrimage Itinerary") of Egeria does not offer a name for the Feast, however. The date February 14 proves that in Jerusalem at that time, Christ's birth was celebrated on January 6, Epiphany. Egeria writes for her beloved fellow nuns at home:

"XXVI The fortieth day after the Epiphany is undoubtedly celebrated here with the very highest honour, for on that day there is a procession, in which all take part, in the Anastasis, and all things are done in their order with the greatest joy, just as at Easter. All the priests, and after them the bishop, preach, always taking for their subject that part of the Gospel where Joseph and Mary brought the Lord into the Temple on the fortieth day, and Symeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, saw Him, treating of the words which they spake when they saw the Lord, and of that offering which His parents made. And when everything that is customary has been done in order, the sacrament is celebrated, and the dismissal takes place."

In 542 the feast was established throughout the Eastern Empire by Justinian. In Rome, the feast appears in the Gelasian Sacramentary, a manuscript collection of the 7th and 8th centuries associated with Pope Gelasius I, but with many interpolations and some forgeries. There it carries for the first time the new title of the feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Late in time though it may be, Candlemas is still the most ancient of all the festivals in honor of the Virgin Mary. The date of the feast in Rome was moved forward to February 2, since during the late 4th century the Roman feast of Christ's nativity been introduced as December 25.

Though modern laypeople picture Candlemas as an important feast throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, in fact it spread slowly in the West; it is not found in the Lectionary of Silos (650) nor in the Calendar (731–741) of Sainte-Geneviève of Paris.

The 10th century Benedictional of St. Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester, has a formula used for blessing the candles. Candlemas did become important enough to find its way into the secular calendar. It was the traditional day to remove the cattle from the hay meadows, and from the field that was to be ploughed and sown that spring. References to it are common in later medieval and early Modern literature; Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is recorded as having its first performance on Candlemas Day, 1602. It remains one of the Scottish quarter days, at which debts are paid and law courts are in session.

Candlemas is chiefly observed today in the Orthodox, and Anglican traditions. In the Orthodox traditions it is the day on which believers bring beeswax candles to their local church to blessed for use in the church or in the home. Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, this title of the feast was dropped in favor of the Presentation of the Lord with the purification of Mary and the blessing of candles de-emphasized in favor of a focus on the prophecy of Simeon.

Relation to non-Christian celebrations

Candlemas depends on the date for Christmas: Candlemas follows 40 days after. Thus there is no independent meaningfulness to the date of Candlemas. It is plausible that some features of Pagan observances were incorporated into Christian rites of Candlemas, when the celebration of Candlemas spread to the north and west of Europe.

Modern neopagans have argued that Candlemas is a Christianization of the Celtic Sabbat of Imbolc, which was celebrated in pre-Christian Europe (and especially the British Isles) at about the same time of year. This festival marked the mid-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The term "Imbolc" translates as either "in milk" or "in the belly," and marked the birth and nursing of the spring lambs as a sign of the first stirrings of spring in the middle of winter.

It may also have been celebrated with the lighting of candles, as slightly longer days begin to be noticeable at this time of year. In Irish homes, there were many rituals centered around welcoming Brigid (a Goddess, some of whose rituals and legends became attached to the Christian Saint Brigid, who was the Abbess of Kildare) into the home at this time. The exact date may have varied from place to place based on local tradition, but since Imbolc was marked as a midpoint between solstice and equinox it was not likely affected by the lunar year. Imbolc is celebrated by modern pagans on February 1.

Christians currently counter-argue there is no evidence that this festival was widespread, and there is no reason to suppose that an Anglo-Celtic festival would have influenced the practice of the Roman church after the late 4th century.

Secular historians have sometimes argued that the Roman church introduced Candlemas celebrations in opposition to the Pagan feast of Lupercalia; many Christian texts deny this. The Catholic Encyclopædia is definite in its rejection of this argument: "The feast was certainly not introduced by Pope Gelasius to suppress the excesses of the Lupercalia," (referencing J.P. Migne, Missale Gothicum, 691). The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica agrees: the association with Gelasius "has led some to suppose that it was ordained by Pope Gelasius I in 492 as a counter-attraction to the pagan Lupercalia; but for this there is no warrant." Since the two festivals are both concerned with the ritual purification of women, not all historians are convinced that the connection is purely coincidental. Gelasius' certainly did write a treatise against Lupercalia, and this still exists; see Lupercalia. Nevertheless it is clear that Candlemas merely follows by forty days whatever day is celebrated as Christ's Nativity.

The tradition that some modern Christians and Pagans observe, of lighting a candle in each window (or in each room), is not the origin of the name "Candlemas", which instead refers to a blessing of candles.

Traditions and superstitions

As a poem by Robert Herrick records, the eve of Candlemas was the day on which Christmas decorations of greenery were removed from people's homes; for traces of berries, holly and so forth will bring death among the congregation before another year is out. Another tradition holds that anyone who hears funeral bells tolling on Candlemas will soon hear of the death of a close friend or relative; each toll of the bell represents a day that will pass before the unfortunate news is learned.

In the British Isles, good weather at Candlemas is taken to indicate severe winter weather later. It is also the date that bears emerge from hibernation to inspect the weather as well as wolves, who if they choose to return to their lairs on this day is interpreted as meaning severe weather will continue for another forty days at least. In the United States and Canada, Candlemas evolved into Groundhog Day celebrated on the same date.

The earliest American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College:

February 4, 1841 — from Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris' diary …"Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate."[1]

In France, Candlemas (French: La Chandeleur) is celebrated with crêpes, which must be eaten only after eight p.m. If the cook can flip a crêpe while holding a coin in the other hand, the family is assured of prosperity throughout the coming year.

In Mexico, Candlemas (Spanish: Día de La Candelaria) is celebrated with Tamales. Tradition indicates that on January 5, the night before Three Kings Day (the Epiphany), whoever gets one or more of the few plastic or metal dolls (originally coins) buried within the Rosca de Reyes bread must throw a party on Candlemas.

Sailors are often reluctant to set sail on Candlemas Day, believing that any voyage begun then will end in disaster — given the frequency of severe storms in February, this is not entirely without sense.

External links


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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