Candlemas is a an ancient celebration I took to heart after my father died.
Candlemas, light in my darkness
Dad was struck down by an aneurism 22 years ago. I was told by phone he keeled over in his kitchen, and I thought of my childhood hideout, a willow tree toppled by lightning.
Clinical depression felled me. During those dark days, I read about Candlemas, an ancient ceremony still celebrated by Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox believers.
The idea of speaking a blessing over candles, then lighting them ceremonially to honor Jesus, light of the world, sparked something in my pervasive gloom. A flicker of interest.
Wicks and wax
Sandalwood candles especially stirred my dulled sensibilities. I arranged them on a round tray and lit them, one by one. I don’t remember what I said, probably something like Please bless these, whatever that means, and show me the way out of this darkness.
I did not process with them down an aisle or around the house. I just needed a visual that spoke of hope.
Lifted gently from an enameled box, wooden matches kindled the flames. A quirky cast iron snuffer extinguished them.
I even consecrated my tools for the task, pronounced a made-up blessing on fire and iron.
Somehow, these seemingly simple acts—igniting and snuffing—fired an inner expectancy. Soothed my frayed nerves.
To light a candle by myself is one of my favorite prayers, writes David Steindl-Rast.
I am not talking about reading prayers by candlelight.
The very act of lighting the candle is prayer.
There is the sound of striking the match
- the whiff of smoke after blowing it out
- the way the flame flares up and then sinks
- until a drop of melted wax gives it strength
- to grow to its proper size
- and to steady itself
All this and the darkness beyond my small circle of light is prayer.
I enter into it as one enters a room.
Since AD 496, Candlemas, or Candelaria, has traditionally been celebrated February 2nd. Midway between Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, blessing the candles occurs 40 days after Christmas. These blessed candles are then used in the 40-day cycle of Lent, leading up to Easter.
The ceremony derives from the gospel story of Simeon and Anna, both present when Mary and Joseph carried Jesus into the temple for the first time. Simeon’s ensuing prophecy declared Jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”
Got a match?
So here I go again, February 2nd. The groundhog looks for his shadow. People debate over more snow or imminent thaw. Others bless candles, light them in remembrance of those they love.
In remembrance of my dad, I light my all-day, fire-in-ice candle, given me by a lifelong friend. All day it will remind me of him as well as my heavenly Father.
What do you think about lighting a candle as prayer?
Will you light a remembrance candle for someone today?
A moving photographic sequence, narrated by David Steindl-Rice
You might also enjoy this post