Tomorrow, 2nd February, is the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and also of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It is otherwise known as Candlemas because of the candle-lit procession which was the distinctive liturgical feature of this Feast. As a light-giver, the candle is beautiful but fragile, easily blown out by a draught, and lighting only a small area compared with the surrounding darkness. This makes the symbolism of the candle particularly evocative. During Advent, as a candle is lit for each of the four Sundays of Advent, the area of light gradually increases and invades the surrounding darkness until the Light which the darkness cannot contain enters the world. Lighted candles are given to god-parents at baptisms to signify that the candidate has passed from darkness into light. The word ‘candidate’ itself shares a common root with ‘candle’ – cand, meaning ‘shine’, ‘white’. The ‘candidatus’ in ancient Rome was an aspirant to political office who wore a white toga (toga candida) to show the purity of his motives. The Paschal Candle is lighted during Eastertide and placed apart from the altar candles. Some people find it helpful to sit before a lighted candle as a means of stilling their minds before private prayer.
A Word in Season