Monday, February 02, 2009

Our Lady of Purity [UPDATED]

Today is Candlemas. On this day, the few remaining items of the Anderson family Christmas decorations (candles in the window, outside Christmas lights and wreaths, some greenery left on the inside walls) will come down.

The snowdrop, in purest white arraie, First rears her hedde on Candlemas daie.
~ From an early church calendar of English flowers, c. 1500.

Candlemas Day is a Christian Feast kept on 2nd February to commemorate the purification of the Virgin after the birth of Christ. On this day the image of the Virgin Mary is taken down and snowdrops spread in its place.

From the University of Dayton's "Mary Page":
The alabaster white snowdrop became a symbol of Mary's purity and was called the Flower of Purification because it bloomed on February 2, the Feast of the Purification of Mary. In Italy and other countries in Europe the statue of Mary was removed from the altar on that day and snowdrops were strewn in its place. This day was also the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The flowers were called Candlemas Bells after the ceremony of blessing the candles began late in the eighth century and February 2 also became known as Candlemas Day.
From the BBC's website:
The snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is one of the most eagerly-awaited flowers, heralding the end of the British wintertime. Indeed, it is said to be the first flower of spring, symbolising purity and the cleansing of the earth after winter.

It is an early-flowering bulb plant of the daffodil family, which grows in damp regions of Europe and southwest Asia; and it is widely cultivated in gardens. Snowdrops will grow on any soil type, but prefer rich, moist soils.

The snowdrop grows from a small bulb, producing slender leaves about 6 inches long, and flower stalks ending in a solitary white flower with three spreading outer petals which are larger and more convex than the three inner ones. The flower is milky-white, as indicated by its scientific name, Galanthus (Greek, gala = milk, anthos = flower). There are green markings on the inner petals, which experts are able to use as a means of identification. Some cultivated forms have double flowers. Snowdrops always look particularly attractive when growing in grass or under trees.

The grounds of Walsingham Priory (now known as Walsingham Abbey), site of extensive Medieval and modern-day Marian pilgrimage and devotion, are famous for the snowdrops in honour of the Blessed Virgin that appear this time of year.

From the Medieval Saints Yahoo Group:
Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin

Also called Feast of Simon the Elder, Presentation of Our Lord at the Temple, Our Lady of Good Success; In Greek it is known as the "Feast of the Meeting"; commonly called "Candlemas" in the West

Liturgical Color: Purple

Theme and Motives: sacrifice and dedication

Commemorated February 2

Instituted: 350 in Jerusalem; In the 5th century it began to be celebrated in Rome. The earliest account of the feast is described by a fourth century pilgrim from Spain named Egeria . She visited Jerusalem around the year 380 and wrote about this feast day in her diary, recording that a solemn and magnificent celebration of the Holy Sacrament was held at the Basilica of the Tomb of Christ. In 542, the Emperor Justinian ordered that it be observed at Constantinople as an act of thanksgiving for the ending of the plague in that city and from there it spread throughout the East. Syriac Pope Sergius I (687-701) established a procession for this feast and it took on a penitential character until the 1960s.


According to the Mosaic law a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification"; for a maid-child the time which excluded the mother from sanctuary was even doubled. When the time (forty or eighty days) was over the mother was to "bring to the temple a lamb for a holocaust and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin"; if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; the priest prayed for her and so she was cleansed. (Leviticus 12:2-8)

Forty days after the birth of Christ Mary complied with this precept of the law, she redeemed her first-born from the temple (Numbers 18:15), and was purified by the prayer of Simeon the just, in the presence of Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:22 sqq.). No doubt this event, the first solemn introduction of Christ into the house of God, was in the earliest times celebrated in the Church of Jerusalem. We find it attested for the first half of the fourth century by the pilgrim of Bordeaux, Egeria or Silvia. The day (14 February) was solemnly kept by a procession to the Constantinian basilica of the Resurrection, a homily on Luke 2:22 sqq., and the Holy Sacrifice. But the feast then had no proper name; it was simply called the fortieth day after Epiphany. This latter circumstance proves that in Jerusalem Epiphany was then the feast of Christ's birth.

From Jerusalem the feast of the fortieth day spread over the entire Church, and later on was kept on the 2nd of February, since within the last twenty-five years of the fourth century the Roman feast of Christ's nativity (25 December) was introduced. In Antioch it is attested in 526 (Cedrenue); in the entire Eastern Empire it was introduced by the Emperor Justinian I (542) in thanksgiving for the cessation of the great pestilence which had depopulated the city of Constantinople. In the Greek Church it was called Hypapante tou Kyriou, the meeting (occursus) of the Lord and His mother with Simeon and Anna. The Armenians call it: "The Coming of the Son of God into the Temple" and still keep it on the 14th of February (Tondini di Quaracchi, Calendrier de la Nation Arménienne, 1906, 48); the Copts term it "presentation of the Lord in the Temple" (Nilles, Kal. man., II 571, 643). Perhaps the decree of Justinian gave occasion also to the Roman Church (to Gregory I?) to introduce this feast, but definite information is wanting on this point. The feast appears in the Gelasianum (manuscript tradition of the seventh century) under the new title of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The precession is not mentioned. Pope Sergius I (687-701) introduced a precession for this day. The Gregorianum (tradition of the eighth century) does not speak of this procession, which fact proves that the procession of Sergius was the ordinary "station", not the liturgical act of today.

The feast was certainly not introduced by Pope Gelasius to suppress the excesses of the Lupercalia (Migne, Missale Gothicum, 691), and it spread slowly in the West; it is not found in the "Lectionary" of Silos (650) nor in the "Calendar" (731-741) of Sainte-Genevieve of Paris. In the East it was celebrated as a feast of the Lord; in the West as a feast of Mary; although the "Invitatorium" (Gaude et lætare, Jerusalem, occurrens Deo tuo), the antiphons and responsories remind us of its original conception as a feast of the Lord. The blessing of the candles did not enter into common use before the eleventh century; it has nothing in common with the procession of the Pupercalia. In the Latin Church this feast (Purificatio B.M.V.) is a double of the second class. In the Middle Ages it had an octave in the larger number of dioceses; also today the religious orders whose special object is the veneration of the Mother of God (Carmelites, Servites) and many dioceses (Loreto, the Province of Siena, etc.) celebrate the octave.

Blessing of Candles and Procession

According to the Roman Missal the celebrant after Tierce, in stole and cope of purple colour, standing at the epistle side of the altar, blesses the candles (which must be of beeswax). Having sung or recited the five orations prescribed, he sprinkles and incenses the candles. Then he distributes them to the clergy and laity, whilst the choir sings the canticle of Simeon, "Nunc dimittis". The antiphon "Lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuæ Israel" is repeated after every verse, according to the medieval custom of singing the antiphons. During the procession which now follows, and at which all the partakers carry lighted candles in their hands, the choir sings the antiphon "Adorna thalamum tuum, Sion", composed by St. John of Damascus, one of the few pieces which, text and music, have been borrowed by the Roman Church from the Greeks. The other antiphons are of Roman origin. The solemn procession represents the entry of Christ, who is the Light of the World, into the Temple of Jerusalem. It forms an essential part of the liturgical services of the day, and must be held in every parochial church where the required ministers can be had. The procession is always kept on 2 February even when the office and Mass of the feast is transferred to 3 February. Before the reform of the Latin liturgy by St. Pius V (1568), in the churches north and west of the Alps this ceremony was more solemn. After the fifth oration a preface was sung.

The "Adorna" was preceded by the antiphon "Ave Maria". While now the procession in held inside the church, during the Middle Ages the clergy left the church and visited the cemetery surrounding it. Upon the return of the procession a priest, carrying an image of the Holy Child, met it at the door and entered the church with the clergy, who sang the canticle of Zachary, "Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel". At the conclusion, entering the sanctuary, the choir sang the responsory, "Gaude Maria Virgo" or the prose, "Inviolata" or some other antiphon in honour of the Blessed Virgin.


Canticle of Simon (Luke 2:25-32 DRV):

And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon: and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. And the Holy Ghost was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, He also took him into his arms and blessed God and said:

Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace: Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.


More on the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin at:

A couple of years ago, Fr. Nicholas Schofield at Roman Miscellany had a nice post about the Purification of Our Lady, noting that "according to tradition, Christmas only really comes to an end today - Candlemas, the Feast of Mary’s Purification and Christ’s Presentation in the Temple, the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary":

The Feast reminds us of a number of mysteries. We recall how the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, came to the Temple to be purified, in obedience to the Law of Moses. A woman had to stay at home for forty days after giving birth to a son. It must have been a blessing to be obliged to stay quietly at home and care for her newborn baby in these important early days of infancy. Then, after the prescribed period was over, the parents would bring offerings to the door of the Temple: in the case of poor families, like Jesus, Mary and Joseph, two pigeons or turtle doves. And so Our Blessed Lady, the purest of virgins, came like any other mother for this ceremony of ‘purification.’ She offered her Son to God and the God-made-man entered His Temple as a helpless baby. Yet hardly anyone noticed the great event.

Hardly anyone, that is, with the exception of that just man, Simeon, and the prophetess, Anna. They symbolize for us the many generations that had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah. In them, the Old Dispensation meets the New. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Simeon tells Mary two important truths – one concerning Jesus and one concerning herself. The Child will be a ‘sign of contradiction’; He will be the cause of the fall and resurrection of many – the fall of those who reject His message and the resurrection of those who accept it. Furthermore, Mary’s own soul will be pierced by a sword – the sword first enters her at that moment and it goes ever deeper, as her Son is rejected by His own people and opposed by the Scribes and Pharisees. It eventually transfixes her soul at the foot of the cross, just as the Centurion’s lance transfixes the heart of her Son. You can see how the Feast of the Presentation brings an end to the Christmas Season and directs our gaze towards Lent and Holy Week.


Some more links (hat tip: Dave Hartline):
All About Candlemas (Presentation of the Lord)

Brief History Of Candlemas & The Connection To Groundhog Day

G. Thomas Fitzpatrick has more on Candlemas Day at Recta Ratio.

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