Candlemas today is the final day we enjoy Christmas in real time as we note Mary and Joseph leaving Bethlehem with Baby Jesus to go up to the Temple in Jerusalem.
The name Candlemas is appropriate for we say that Jesus is the Light of the World. Today’s candle procession in church, representing Christ being carried into the Temple by his mother, began in Rome when Mass was so early in the morning that it was still dark.
Today was a turning point for the Holy Family as their encounter in the Temple with Simeon was a look to the future beyond Jesus’ largely hidden childhood to his trial and crucifixion.
The Holy Family was on its way home although maybe via Egypt for safety from Herod’s soldiers we heard about on Holy Innocents 28 December.
But Candlemas is also a cheerful occasion. It is the ancient day for farmers to move cattle off the land needed for growing hay and wheat for the Lammas harvest in August.
In Provence the church candles this morning are green to indicate the approach of spring.
In Marseille there are not only green candles but the special Navette biscuits in the shape of a boat on sale after the 6.15am Mass at St Victor’s Abbey.
Which church has the most candles today? Probably Ripon Cathedral which claims to have ‘thousands of candles’ ready for tonight’s Festal Eucharist and Candlelit Procession at 7.30pm.
In 1424 King James I of Scotland chose this special day to marry Englishwoman Joan in Southwark Cathedral.
**Lent is approaching. Carnival has already begun in Venice and Rio. Next Thursday is Fat Thursday in Poland and Tuesday week is Shrove Tuesday.
Keeping Lent & Easter is available online and in bookshops including Church House Bookshop in Westminster and Southwark Cathedral Shop.