Candlemas

Candlemas – a Northern Hemisphere winter celebration

With the temperatures in the high twenties (that’s 80s for those still using the incomprehensible Fahrenheit), sunset about 9pm, and children beginning to go back to school after the long summer holiday, candles are probably not the first things that spring to mind in this Southern Hemisphere.

It is understandable that, at this time, in the north of the Northern Hemisphere, locked in cold, dark, miserable, boring winter, that the church has lots of celebrations – people have time, and candles and processions make perfect sense. The Church of England can stretch out Christmas with the Naming of Jesus, Epiphany, all the way for forty days to The Presentation/Candlemas.

But here in New Zealand, the average person would understand “The twelve days of Christmas” to be the 12 days leading up to Christmas Day. After Christmas Day, the tree comes down and it’s off camping at the beach as long as possible, with a New Years’ Eve party thrown in for good measure. Clergy are away on holiday also with a skeleton staffing in churches reduced from a full run of services all week to maybe one on Sunday. Congregations are at their lowest as people worship the God of nature in nature. The last thing we need to be doing is aping mummy Church of England.

So A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (ANZPB 1989) sensibly had The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple as a Feast of our Lord “in light type” (page 7). It was celebrated on 2 February. Roman Catholics, and Northern Hemisphere Anglicans (CofE, USA, Canada) had, if February 2 was on Sunday, it taking precedence over the Sunday – that option was allowed. Simple. End of story. [See Table ANZPB page 939 – not as incorrectly given on page 7 – 944]

But then came The Promise of His Glory (1991), a tarting up of an extended “Christmas/Epiphany Season” in the Church of England – perfectly appropriate there, as I indicated above. It’s a thick book of ideas to get the English through the winter – the book goes all the way to Candlemas. And those anglophiles in NZ, who love adding ever more and more options onto a baroque Church Year, gave birth to the Anglican Church of Or, and, looking lustfully at what England had, just glued, without any attempt at inculturation, their ideas to our beach context.

Candlemas has now shot here all the way from being a Feast of our Lord “in light type” to a PRINCIPAL FEAST in BOLD CAPITALS which “is to be observed” – and not just on the day it falls, (with the option that if, once in seven years, it falls on Sunday, you are allowed to celebrate it rather than the Ordinary Sunday). No – in The Anglican Church of Or we can now move it if it falls on a weekday (as it obviously mostly does) and celebrate it “on the Sunday falling between 28 January and 3 February”.

Furthermore, in The Anglican Church of Or, if General Synod Te Hinota Whanui has its way, we now intend to count our Ordinary Time as starting from this celebration. In ANZPB we just count Ordinary Time starting the Sunday between 7 and 13 January like all Christians who use the Ordinary Time counting system (page 707). But now there is a confused and confusing statute before this years General Synod Te Hinota Whanui that will make our church’s counting independent from others. This coming Sunday for all others who use Ordinary Time is the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time. We in NZ, only just beginning our own Ordinary Time, will call Sunday 7 February “The First Sunday in Ordinary Time”.

Someone will have to explain to me what happens when 2 February is a Saturday. Those who celebrate Candlemas on Saturday will call Sunday 3 Feb “The First Sunday in Ordinary Time”. And for them 10 Feb will be the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. While, for those who celebrate Candlemas on the Sunday (3 Feb) 10 Feb will be “The First Sunday in Ordinary Time”. And so on, communities numbering Ordinary Time one Sunday difference, throughout the rest of that year.

I guess, being The Anglican Church of Or, having two completely different numbering systems (one out) fits in with the philosophy. I guess that will be accompanied by different readings for those different communities. Presently we only devote four pages of our lectionary booklet to the two different options for Epiphany. It’s certainly going to be an increasingly fat booklet.

What I would have: Return to the well-thought-through approach of ANZPB which holds with the majority Western position of celebrating Candlemas/The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on 2 February. 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 ANZPB of counting Ordinary Time, with the rest of the world’s churches that use that counting system, of counting Ordinary time starting the Sunday between 7 and 13 January. I got up this morning and prayed Morning Prayer for the Feast of The Presentation. We need to see all the liturgical statutes returning this year to General Synod for confirmation to be lost. And we need to reboot our liturgical life at least back to the usually well-thought-through approach of ANZPB 1989 with some slight improvements on that (remove the Two Year cycle; update the Three year cycle to the Revised Common Lectionary; standardise responses).

Here is a Candlemas collect:

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.
Amen.

(Gregorian Sacramentary, Sarum Missal, 1549 BCP)

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