Candlemas: from the Presentation of Christ to ‘Radical Inclusion’

Feb 2, 2020 by

by Martin Sewell, Archbishop Cranmer:

Today we mark a Church Feast which is known as either Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple. I doubt if any of us will be feasting – after all, few of us mark other aspects of the Church Year with fasting, and today there are significantly fewer links between ordinary and religious culture. Candlemas was named because the candles used in Church were traditionally blessed on this day in the Catholic tradition. There were a variety of other traditions associated with the day – some pre-Christian customs and superstitions – on a day which sits midway between Christmas and the Spring solstice.

It was a festival of light, and some people leave Christmas decorations up until today. Most are, of course, lucky to make New Year’s Day. It has diminished in the folk memory. Even if you know about it, I doubt any of you will be studying the dripping of candle wax and seeking to divine the nature of the coming year from traditional beliefs about it. If the wax fell in a certain way, it was once thought death in the family might follow. We can probably manage without those aspects.

Can we make something more substantial out of the Presentation of Christ? I think we can, but we need to do it in two stages: first, looking at Jewish tradition, and then seeing how Christ’s rather passive involvement in this story nevertheless makes a considerable difference. When one appreciates that his mere presence is so decisive it will, I believe, infuse important meaning into our lives today.

In the Jewish tradition, there was great importance attached to ritual uncleanliness. The Temple was an incredibly exclusive place. You didn’t let foreigners in, you didn’t let anybody in to the Inner Sanctum, and only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.

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