The Presentation of the Lord pulls many favorite mementos from the Catholic cupboard: candles, blessings, Christmas and church. The origins of the feast lie in ancient Jewish custom. On the 40th day after childbirth, parents brought the infant to the temple to present him/her to the Lord and to purify the mother. St. Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary sacrificed two birds for the occasion after the birth of Jesus. Count up 40 days after Christmas and you’ll come to February 2.
Until the 1960s, we used to call this day “The Purification of Mary.” The title changed for several reasons. We no longer believe that women who give birth need purification, and the true significance of the feast concerns Jesus coming to the Temple. He is the Promised One, whose light will shine, beaming rays of hope to all the world. Also on the old calendar, this feast closed the Christmas season. Now we end the Christmas season with the Baptism of the Lord. So, even though the date for the Presentation still depends on Christmas, it has become a feast of ordinary time. Since it is a feast of the Lord, it takes precedence even when it falls on Sunday. The Church has a tradition of blessing candles on this day. On the day following this feast, our calendar permits the option of commemorating St. Blase, a bishop and martyr of the early church. Legend has it that he once freed a child from choking, and while imprisoned under persecution he received light from friends who visited his cell with candles.
Our church still uses candles from the Presentation of the Lord in the blessing of the faithful’s throats on St. Blase’s Day. Blessed candles in our churches and homes signify the living presence of Christ in our community. With Christ as our light we warm a lost and wintry world.