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Candlemas 2022

Candlemas – a Northern Hemisphere winter celebration

Today is 2.2.22 – even for people in USA, who write dates in the oddest way! It is Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, 40 days after Christmas.

Almighty and ever-living God,
clothed in majesty,
whose beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple,
in substance of our flesh:
grant that we may be presented to you
with pure and clean hearts,
by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

(Gregorian Sacramentary, Sarum Missal, 1549 BCP)

Candlemas originates from fourth century Jerusalem. It was celebrated on February 12. It was moved to February 2 to be forty days after Christmas as that was set on December 25. Pope Sergius I (687-701) introduced the procession with lit candles from his native Syria to Rome. The story is sourced in Luke 2:22-40 where he conflates Leviticus 12 (purification for a new mother, forty days after the birth of a son, eighty days after a daughter’s birth) with redemption of the firstborn son from service to God (Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16; Numbers 18:15-16). Although the later required a five shekel payment to the priests, there was no requirement to go the temple. Prior to purification the mother is unclean. Purification involves the offering of a lamb as a thank offering for the gift of a child, and a dove or pigeon to cover any possible sin incurred in the flow of blood. Those unable to afford a lamb could offer a second dove.

The festival can be seen as a final farewell facing Christmas, and a turning to the walk towards the cross. This fits with the seasonal weather changes within nature.

The Eucharist can begin with the blessing of candles and a more elaborate procession. The faithful might gather in a place apart from the worship space, all with a lit candle, and, after the blessing of candles, process into the church building.

Preserve us, O Lord, while waking, and guard us while sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen.

Preserve us, O Lord, while waking, and guard us while sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

Resources for Preaching Down Under
Textweek resources
Girardian reflection on the readings

Last Sunday, some Anglican congregations in New Zealand Sundayised Candlemas – they moved the celebration to Sunday; it stopped being 40 days after Christmas and made Candlemas the celebration of 37 days after Christmas!

People were given a lit candle. Outside, the sun (which had been up since before 6:30 am and wouldn’t go down until 9 in the evening) was heating the air into the mid 20s Celsius (that’s around 75 degrees Fahrenheit if you think that way). Lights on in the church building added little to the bright natural light of the hot summer day. 

If the formal rite was used, the service began by the congregation being told that it is 40 days since Christmas (even those without a Maths degree would be startled – clearly, it was only 37). And a lot of the service, including the sermon, talked about darkness, and waiting in the darkness.

The Feast of “The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin” survived the English Reformation, and simply as a celebration on the actual day that it falls. It did so in England right through to the liturgical revision of Alternative Service Book of 1980. And similarly in NZ Anglicanism. It was only with the Church of England’s 1991 resource “The Promise of His Glory” that Candlemas was upgraded:

Where Candlemas is given this pivotal place, Sundays up to Candlemas need to be ‘of Epiphany’, and Sundays after Candlemas ‘before Lent’. We also give encouragement for this feast to be celebrated on the nearest Sunday to 2 February, to enable it to make its impact.

The Promise of His Glory page 260

CofE’s Common Worship committed that church to this approach. Some Kiwi Anglicans, enamoured with such colourful Medieval opportunities in Northern-Hemisphere Mother England, patched some of these bits onto our Southern-Hemisphere cloth. 

I don’t think the patch works. I don’t think that it fits our Southern-Hemisphere reality.

And it doesn’t work that our first NZ Sunday in the Ordinary Time, that we say begins after Candlemas, we call “The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time”.

In New Zealand, I have seen a shop which had, in big letters “The 24 days of Christmas”. And in the window display there were 24 boxes, each numbered, each with its own object you could purchase in the shop. I’m used to the 12 days of Christmas, but it took me quite a bit to realise that this was a reference to the usual Advent Calendar. The 24 days of Christmas, for this shop, were the 24 days of December leading up to Christmas Day.

Purists may balk at it, but our Southern Hemisphere culture has Christmas celebrated in the lead up to December 25. Trying to enforce a Northern-Hemisphere Christmas Season ending in February is forever frustrating. Schools, and others, have Christmas carol services in NZ in December – at the close of the school year, not at the end of January or the start of February, to begin the school year.

Australian Anglicanism and Southern African Anglicanism, both Southern Hemisphere versions of Anglicanism, have retained the inherited celebration of Candlemas as being February 2 without having it close a Christmas Season or upgrading it to an annual Sunday celebration. Only NZ Anglicanism has abandoned Southern-Hemisphere inculturation and followed Mummy England in her making her bleak midwinter less boring, filled with more celebrations and more candles and light.

If your community Sundayises Candlemas, you will end up never reading Luke 4:21-30 nor the great 1 Corinthians 13 at a Sunday Eucharist…

So what could be our Southern Hemisphere equivalent? How might we renew our own Southern Hemisphere bleak midwinter in the manner that the Northern Hemisphere CofE has done? Well, six months from early February we arrive in early August. We, in NZ Anglicanism could celebrate the Transfiguration (August 6) with a Vigil (the night of August 5) with candles, processions, and also, as well as the Gospel message of the Transfiguration, a particular focus on peace (the anniversary of Hiroshima’s bombing being on August 6 – that has its own tradition of candles).

So I suggest NZ Anglicanism returns to the well-thought-through approach of the 1989 A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (ANZPB/HKMA) which holds with the majority Western position of celebrating Candlemas/The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on 2 February (and doesn’t move it to the nearest Sunday). If that happens (once in seven years) to fall on Sunday, you are welcome to celebrate that on Sunday. Return to the well-thought-through approach of the 1989 ANZPB/HKMA of counting Ordinary Time, with the rest of the world’s churches that use that counting system, starting the Sunday between 7 and 13 January. We need to reboot our liturgical life at least back to the usually well-thought-through approach of ANZPB/HKMA 1989 with some slight improvements on that (remove the Two Year cycle; update the Three year cycle to the Revised Common Lectionary; standardise responses; increase the Maori content). The current printed draft of this does some of that – but can be improved upon and then go through the proper Formularies process (which it hasn’t yet), so that it is not just purloining the title, A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa.

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