Presentation of Christ in the Temple, from the Sherbrooke Missal c. 1310 – c. 1320
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today is Candlemas, now better known as “grounhog day” or “pancake day.” When I was a child, Candlemas, la Chandeleur, was a religious holiday that was also a festival of lights: la fête des lumières. We didn’t know it was groundhog day, nor did we know it was pancake day. We lived in the very Catholic province of Quebec, which was then a priest-ridden province and is now, otherwise ridden.
However, times have changed. In Quebec, today is le jour de la marmotte and la fête des crêpes. Quebec has therefore caught up to the rest of the world. Apparently, Groundhog Day is a German tradition. (See Groundhog Day, Wikipedia.) Ironically , it could be that many Quebecers do not remember la Chandeleur, or Candlemas.
Candlemas commemorated and still commemorates:
- the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
- the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin
- the Meeting of the Lord (see Simeon, Gospel of Luke, Wikipedia)
Saint Gelasius I
- St Gelasius
- a commemoration
- the seasons
We owe Candlemas to Pope Gelasius I who died in Rome on the 19 November c. 496 CE and is now a saint. Saint Gelasius wanted to replace Lupercalia, a disorderly pagan feast with a Christian feast, celebrated about 12 days later than 2 February. It was Candlemas, which eventually would take place on 2 February, according to the Gregorian calendar. Most Christian feasts are celebrated on the same day as a pagan feast and they inaugurate or close a season, the four seasons and liturgical seasons.
Humans have also celebrated the day of the longest night, the winter Solstice, and the day of the longest day, the summer Solstice. They have also celebrated the days when day and night are the same length: equinoctial points, or an Equinox. This is the logic according to which Christian feasts are celebrated. It is a matter of season and one of continuity.
In 2016, solstices and equinoctial points are on:
- 20 March, the spring Equinox
- 20 June, the summer Solstice
- 22 September, the fall Equinox
- 21 December the winter Solstice
Christmas is celebrated on 25 December, near the winter Solstice.
Easter is a movable feast, near the spring Equinox, 27 April 2016.
St John’s Day is celebrated on 24 June, near the summer Solstice.
Michaelmas is celebrated on 29 September, near the fall Equinox.
Easter is the only movable feast, but it occurs near the vernal equinox. As for Candlemas, it is celebrated on 2 February and is a festival of lights or la Fête des lumières. It closes Epiphany Season and introduces a new Marian antiphon: Ave, Regina Cælorum, of which there are four. Moreover, it is the day when the canticle entitled Nunc Dimittis (Now let me leave) is sung. Antiphons are call and respond songs: a responsory, but canticles are songs of praise, such as the Magnificat.
Simeon’s Song of Praise by Aert de Gelder,
around 1700–1710 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Canticle of Simeon or the Nunc Dimittis
According to the book of Luke (Luke 2:29-32), Simeon, a devout Jew, had been promised by the Holy Ghost that he would see the Saviour before his death. He recognized Jesus when he was brought to the Temple for the ceremony of the Presentation of the first-born son. Having seen Jesus, a Jew, with his own eyes, he sang a canticle in which he says that now (nunc) he could leave: “Now let me leave…”
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.
Book of Common Prayer, 1662
The Houghton ms Richardson, Harvard (c. 1400)
The Ave, Regina Cælorum is as follows:
Hail, O Queen of Heaven enthroned.
Hail, by angels mistress owned.
Root of Jesse, Gate of Morn
Whence the world’s true light was born:
Glorious Virgin, Joy to thee,
Loveliest whom in heaven they see;
Fairest thou, where all are fair,
Plead with Christ our souls to spare.
V. Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O sacred Virgin.
R. Give me strength against thine enemies.
There are equinoctial tides that occur near the time of an equinox. In France, they are called marées d’équinoxe. They were spectacular where I lived in Normandy. One could not see the water from the shore. When the water returned, it did rapidly. Sheep grazed on the prés salés (salted meadows), called présalés, at Mont-Saint-Michel. It could be that the tides brought the salt. Before or after walking to the Abbey, we would eat crêpes. There was a lovely restaurant at the foot of the hill. Sometimes we drove to Saint-Malô to eat crêpes. Tides occurring on solstices are less dramatic than equinoctial tides.
The Christian seasons are also called “tides:” Christmastide, Epiphanytide, Eastertide, etc. Christianity has more seasons than nature’s four seasons. We are not entering a tide, but an Ordinary Time that will end on Ash Wednesday (10 February, this year) or Pentecost. (See Eastertide, Wikipedia.)
The RELATED ARTICLES, listed below, will lead you to all relevant posts and songs.
- The Twelve Days of Christ (6 January 2016)
- Candlemas: its Stories and its Songs, updated (12 February 2015)
- From Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day (12 February 2013)
- Raphael & Marian Liturgy at Notre-Dame de Paris (4 April 2012)
Kindest regards to everyone. ♥
© Micheline Walker
2 February 2016