Catholic "Groundhog" Day
Jan 29, 2018
The Feast of Candlemas
Candlemas Day is another name for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Forty days after His birth, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for the rites of purification and dedication as prescribed by the Torah. This ritual included the offering of a sacrifice - a lamb for a holocaust (burnt offering) and a pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering, or for a poor couple who could not afford a lamb, two pigeons or two turtledoves. Note Joseph and Mary made the offering of the poor (Lk 2:24).
Also, Joseph and Mary were obliged by the Torah to "redeem" their first born son: "The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 'Consecrate to me every first-born that opens the womb among the Israelites, both of man and beast, for it belongs to me'" (Ex 13:1). The price for such a redemption was five shekels, which the parents paid to the priest. This "redemption" was a kind of payment for the Passover sacrifice, by which the Jews had been freed from slavery.
However, St. Luke in the Gospel does not mention this redemption, but rather the presentation of Our Lord: "When the day came to purify them according to the law of Moses, the couple brought Him up to Jerusalem, so that He could be presented to the Lord, for it is written in the law of the Lord, 'Every first-born male shall be consecrated to the Lord'" (Lk 2:22-23). So the focus is on Jesus' consecration to God. The verb "to present" also means to "offer," which evokes Jesus being presented as the priest who will offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice to free us from the slavery of sin, seal the new and eternal covenant with His blood, and open the gates to the true promised land of heaven.
Simeon, a just and pious man, who awaited the Messiah and looked for the consolation of Israel, was inspired to come to the temple. He held baby Jesus in his arms and blessed God, saying, "Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace; you have fulfilled your word. For my eyes have witnessed your saving deed, displayed for all the peoples to see: A revealing light to the Gentiles, the glory of your people Israel" (Lk 2:29-32). Simeon, thereby, announced that the Messiah has come not just for the Jew but the Gentile; not just the righteous, but the sinner.
So the Presentation is a proclamation of Christ - Messiah and Priest, Lord and Savior. He is the light who came into this world to dispel sin and darkness. For this reason, traditionally at least since the seventh century, candles have been blessed at Mass this day that will be used throughout the year, hence coining the term "Candlemas."
As we consider the feast of the Presentation, we remember that our parents presented us at church for our baptism. We were dedicated to God, and given the name, "Christian." We, too, received a lit candle from the paschal candle, at which the priest said, "You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as a child of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your heart. When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet Him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom”. Therefore, as a light, each of us must bear witness to Our Lord. We must be the beacon that guides others to Christ.
As Jesus insists in the Gospels of Matthew: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.j 15Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.k 16Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Two other interesting tidbits highlight this day: First, in many Eastern European countries, the feast of the Presentation officially closes the celebration of Christmas. For this reason, Saint John Paul II began the custom of keeping the Nativity scene in St. Peter's square until Feb. 2, as many Catholics do as well including their Christmas Trees.
Second, Candlemas Day also was important in the lives of farmers. An old English song went as follows:
"If Candlemas be fair and bright, / Come, Winter, have another flight. / If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, / Go, Winter, and come not again."
So if the bright sun "overshadows" the brightness of Candlemas Day, there will be more winter. However, if the light of Candlemas Day radiates through the gloom and darkness of the day, the end of winter is near. In America, Protestants decided we should replace Catholic Candlemas Day with Groundhog Day. As adorable as Punxsutawney Phil may be, we are privileged to adore the Savior of the Lord who emerging from the shadows of sin and death Resurrected, ensures that we shall live and love in the light of eternal day.