Today we arrive at what some consider the official closing of the Christmas season, forty days since the Solemnity of the Nativity. Even though the Church liturgy entered 'ordinary time' immediately following Epiphany, the aura of Christmas and the infancy narratives lingered on.
Before the liturgical reforms of the 1960's, this was the Feast of the Purification of Mary. Since a much earlier time, it has been called Candlemas Day, a feast harkening back to an ancient festival marking the mid-point between the shortest day of winter and the Spring Equinox. It expressed a sure hope that the sun's full light would surely return to them again. At some point, the day became a natural choice for the blessing of all candles, relief for the long darkness. In time the custom evolved into a blessing for all candles to be used in the church during the coming year. The ancient feast pointed to the returning light; the newer one blessed candles, metaphors for the light which came into the world in Jesus Christ.
Today in our monastery, an array of candles used in our chapel will be blessed by a Redemptorist priest before the Liturgy of the Eucharist this evening. These sacramentals are visible reminders of the that great Light come into the world. But the metaphor is extended to us. In this morning's Office of Readings we were reminded in a sermon by St. Sophronius (Patriarch of Jerusalem c. 560-638):
The true light has come...
Let all of us...be enlightened and made radiant by this light.
Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it
that no one remains in the darkness.
Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet
and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal.
To bear the light; to be the light is not a dedication held exclusively by contemplative nuns. It is a universal commission for all who would live in peace, pursue justice, honor all people, and reverence creation.
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
Adlai Stevenson in praise of Eleanor Roosevelt,
United Nations General Assembly, 1962