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Rethinking 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.

(Gregorian Sacramentary, Sarum Missal, 1549 BCP)

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8 thoughts on “Rethinking Candlemas”

  1. Thanks Bosco, as you know I have for some time been concerned about the not-so-gradual shift in our lectionary to CoE norms. All in all, I think we can agree we have no desire to return to being Little Britain, for all sorts of reasons!

    1. Thanks, Brian. I would add to your point that the CofE has worked through to its own integrity appropriate for them. So, for example, they don’t count “Sundays in Ordinary Time” but have their own counting system. We, however, haven’t thought through how to glue the bits we like from mummy England onto the other bits we like from other places without all the joins so badly showing. As I’ve said previously, “Common Prayer” here is just an oxy-moronic term we use for “lots and lost of resources you can choose from and if you don’t like them make up your own”. Blessings.

  2. 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.

    Oh, so the reason we have to put up with the ghastly Christmas party season over here is your fault?

    1. James – I’m guessing by “over here” you mean Northern Hemisphere. Also you don’t specify when you have “the ghastly Christmas party season”. Here, in the Southern Hemisphere, it makes perfect sense to have “the ghastly Christmas party season” in December leading up to Christmas Day. Since the Church of England has (as I indicate, especially since 1991) shifted to emphasise Christmas as being a season from Christmas Day to Candlemas, if you aren’t having “the ghastly Christmas party season” after Christmas Day, then either the Church of England is out of touch with Northern Hemisphere culture (surprise!) or the influence of the Church of England is not as big as its members and leaders may suppose (surprise!) Blessings.

  3. If you’re celebrating Christmas before Christmas Day, what has happened to Advent?

    And should a church transfer Candlemas from Saturday 2nd Feb to Sunday 3rd Feb, it would surely replace that Ordinary Sunday, which would of course be the First Sunday of OT (or, as may be, the Sunday Next-before-Lent) and the following Sunday all churches would be on the same day of the calender. Simple.

    1. Thanks “WJ”.
      Please on this website, use your ordinary name. If “WJ” is what your friends call you – then I guess that’s your ordinary name.

      I am presuming you are writing from a Northern Hemisphere context (you don’t tell us)?

      So I think you are saying we should not sing a single Christmas Carol prior to Christmas Day. We should not have Jesus in the crib scene when school groups and children come to visit the church in NZ prior to Christmas Day [They certainly, in our context, will not come to visit the crib scene after Christmas Day] In your context do groups and children come to visit the crib after Christmas Day? Carolers should be banned until Christmas Day. Etc. Etc. Is that what you mean?

      Your second paragraph is very, very helpful. So, when the rest of the church worldwide is celebrating The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we in NZ Anglicanism will consistently be celebrating the 1st Sunday in Ordinary Time. What do you suggest our readings be on NZ Anglican 1st Sunday in Ordinary Time?


  4. My experience with the Episcopal Church in the US and the churches of other denominations with rather high church tendencies, is that no, they do not sing Christmas hymns prior to Christmas Eve. They sing Advent hymns. And they do not put the baby Jesus in the creche until Christmas Eve, especially an indoor creche in the nave or chancel.*

    *US churches of all persuasions had a rash of Baby Jesus kidnappings from their outdoor creche scenes this past winter season. Even some of the ones who had chained Jesus to his crib!

    1. Yes, thanks, Br David. I think that this works well in the Northern Hemisphere. The struggle is – how do we do things appropriately here in the Southern Hemisphere. Blessings.

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