Friday, February 1, 2013

Smells, Bells, and What They Tell: Candles

"Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel"(Luke 2:29-32).

Tomorrow, February 2 is popularly known as Groundhog's Day.  It is also my brother's birthday.  And it is Candlemas Day.

On Feb. 2, we find ourselves 40 days after Christmas and, as such, we celebrate the Presentation: the occasion upon which Our Lady and St. Joseph, in accordance with Mosaic law, presented the Child Jesus in the Temple.

It was during that visit that they came upon the devout Simeon, who was waiting for the Messiah--God had revealed he would not die without first seeing the Redeemer.

Hans Holbein, "Presentation of Christ at the Temple, 1500

As Simeon held the Child Jesus in his arms, he proclaimed that this Child would be a light to all the nations.

Our Lord later confirmed this, saying that He is the light of the world.  

This theme of light explains the connection between the Presentation and Candlemas.

It is on this Feb. 2 that the candles used in the Church's liturgy are blessed.  Lay people, too, are encouraged to bring candles with them to Mass on this day, to also be blessed.

Why?  Well, candles are an extremely important sacramental!

The candles used by the Church must be made of pure beeswax.  The reason is because this particular wax is produced by virgin worker bees.  Thus, the candle becomes a beautiful figure of the pure body of Christ, born of the Virgin Mary.

If the wax symbolizes Christ's virginal flesh, the wick represents His soul and the flame His divinity.

At every Mass, there are candles lit on the altar.  This is to remind us of Christ's Gospel, the Holy Bible, which dispels the darkness of sin and ignorance.  

It further compels us to a burning faith, which makes us "children of light."

The warmth and heat of the candles show us the fiery tongues of Pentecost, which enlighten the mind with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Candles also signify Christian self-sacrifice: as the burning taper consumes itself, so must a Christian burn up his or her energies in serving God in others.

When you consider the nature of light, it becomes clear why Christ called Himself the light of the world.  Light penetrates long distances and reaches the farthest corners.  It moves with unbelievable speed; it awakens and sustains life in creation; it brightens all within its influence.  

So, too, with God.  

The Church employs candles in all of its sacraments (save Confession).  Each baptized believer receives a lit candle and is called upon to keep the flame of faith alive.

Candles are not just for within the parish church, however.  They belong in our domestic churches, too!

St. John Bosco once received a prophecy, in which it was revealed to him that there would be three days of total darkness--no light, no sun, no stars, no electricity.  The only source of light for those days would be from blessed candles.

It was a longstanding custom for families to light candles during storms, a family emergency, and childbirth.  

Blessed Pope John Paul II urged Catholics on Candlemas Day to obtain blessed candles and to burn them during these occasions.  He also urged the faithful to place a blessed candle in the hand of a love one who is dying, so that "he can illumine his way to the next world."

Be sure to obtain your own blessed candle tomorrow and to put it to good use within your domestic church!

A wondrous force and might

Both in these candles lie, which if

At any time they light,
They sure believe that neither storm
Nor tempest close abide,
Nor thunder in the skies be heard,
Nor any devil spied,
Nor fearful spirits that walk by night,
Nor hurts of frost or hail.

~ Old English Hymn

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