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Southern Hemisphere Candlemas?

Candlemas – a Northern Hemisphere winter celebration

Last Sunday, I was in the congregation of a church (in New Zealand) which celebrated Candlemas. 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 to 28 degrees (that’s 82 Fahrenheit if you think that way). Lights were on in the church building, but they added little to the bright natural light of the hot summer day.

The service began by the congregation being told that it was 40 days since Christmas (even those without a Maths degree were startled – clearly, it was only 35). 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. (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”.

During the holidays (in January), I stood before a shop (I’m sorry, now, that I didn’t take a photo) 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.

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 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 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).

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)

I’m trying something new. Have a look at this:

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19 thoughts on “Southern Hemisphere Candlemas?”

  1. Bosco, I`m a bit confused (which is nothing new to me!) Are you suggesting that, while all of New Zealand be of one mind in terms of its liturgical schedule and nomenclature, the church in New Zealand need not be tied in the same way to “Mummy England”? Or are you simply suggesting that the symbolism and texts of feasts and Holy Days match the realities of the Southern Hemisphere? If the second case, wouldn’t the priest simply use his or her own discretion? Would you mind elaborating?

    Then again, if this is all too obvious to others, don’t waste your time on this.

    As an aside, this discussion reminds me of when I was teaching in America, I always had my map of the world posted “upside down” so that the students would see how many things are simply relative.

    1. I’m (also confused and) struggling to understand the specifics of your question(s). Within its Northern-Hemisphere context, the CofE has (quite recently) decided to alter the practice of, in this case, Candlemas – increasing its status to a feast that be moved to the nearest Sunday (I’m not criticising their change – that’s for them to think through). The rest of Anglicanism, internationally, has not all followed suit (most haven’t?). NZ, in the Southern Hemisphere, has. I’m questioning that change – especially noting that some of the other things that followed for the CofE (changing titles after Candlemas) were not followed in NZ. The majority celebration of Candlemas, in NZ & internationally, is today. I don’t know what NZ Anglicanism gains by moving it. Is this what you mean? Blessings.

      1. Thanks, Bosco. I understand your viewpoint more clearly now. (I think I was too focused on the oddity of lighting candles to dispel darkness during high summer.)

        It would be interesting for me to read a post from you that spoke more directly to the symbolism used in church services that may be unique to NZ (or the Southern Hemisphere as a whole.)

  2. Colossians 3:16-17 springs to mind as an ongoing antidote to tendencies to multiply festivals.

    2 Corinthians 1:17-19 springs to mind as an ongoing antidote to tendencies to multiply liturgical, lectionary and calendrical alternatives!

    1. Thanks, Peter. I understand some people really love “Baroque” liturgical approaches, where everything is complex and with convoluted esoteric interpretations, the approach of majority liturgical scholarship is towards decluttering and simplifying. Blessings.

  3. I too am a little confused. Are you suggesting that the Candlemas part of today’s feast be placed in a more sensible place in the seasonal year, such as August 6 (Hiroshima, bu thexway is in the northern hemishpere) leaving us to observe the Presentation part of today’s feast to the day itself?

    1. Clearly, I need to improve my writing skills… Alex. In England, I think candles and images of light conquering darkness work well in the winter. I’m suggesting we find Southern Hemisphere celebrations when candles might be a good symbol in our Southern-Hemisphere winter. The feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, sits pretty much at the same point in the Southern-Hemisphere seasonal year as the Feast of the Presentation does in the Northern Hemisphere, so why not use candles in the Southern Hemisphere for the Feast of the Transfiguration? Does this make any sense? Blessings.

  4. On 2 February I happened to visit the Kemp House in Kerikeri and heard the guide give a well-meant if clumsy account of why a lamp is kept burning there as a symbol of and to give thanks for the work of the early missionaries. Apt for the week children usually start school in NZ too.

  5. Why not change the emphasis from lit candles and darkness back to the real focus, the Presentation of the Lord. In the medieval church, the blessing of candles on this day was done after Terce, in broad daylight. You could make something of the ceremony of blessing unlit candles for everyone to take home and use all year, and, at the end, give everyone a single lit taper for a procession, inside your church, or, if you have one, to the graveyard, or a nearby cemetery, to symbolise Christ as the light shining on those who live in the shadow of death.

    1. Yes, David, I think the blessing (on this day) of candles to be used during the year is a good idea – and need not be seen as connecting to planetary season. It was absent from the service I attended (mentioned at the start of my post), and it appears to be absent from CofE’s Common Worship. Blessings.

  6. I had a look at the prayers for the blessing of candles in the Orthodox service book for the blessing of candles and they are not really hemispherical. They mention Christ as the light of the world, and the light of the Holy Spirit that enabled Simeon to recognise him. They speak of the invisible light, so one can see the candles, to paraphrase the Anglican catechism, as an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible light.

    1. Thanks, Deacon Stephen. As mentioned in the comments – the blessing of candles could be done in both hemispheres on this day. It is, in fact, being done in neither in what is being looked at. Could you share the prayer you mentioned? Blessings.

  7. Increasingly the celebration of Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere is December up to Christmas – it is only really in churches that it isn’t. Some of us might take the view that to celebrate it differently is a counter-cultural way of showing the difference between a purely commercial celebration and a religious celebration – ultimately showing a different rhythm of life and different priorities. Notwithstanding that, I totally get the point about the incongruence of symbols!

  8. Thank-you Bosco and Happy New Year. I worked over this Christmas period as I have done for the last few years.. Anyway I mentioned to my vicar last week, I have missed Christmas again be
    cause of the work I do eg. no Christmas dinner etc.. But maybe I havn’t from what you have written here! Interesting. The christmas tree I put up in my local church, I confess I havn’t taken down yet! Haven’t had the time too. Last week I also looked in the supermarket at turkeys! This is getting exciting.. Ruth

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