The Black Madonna of Candelaria, Tenerife. Feast day today.
Candlemass is one of my favourite festivals of the BVM. And one of the oldest: there are sermons on the Feast extant by Methodius of Patara (died 312), Cyril of Jerusalem (deid 360), Gregory the Theologian (away upstairs 389), Amphilochius of Iconium (passed on in 394), Gregory of Nyssa (off to glory in 400), and John Chrysostom (effectively martyred in 407).
The earliest reference to special liturgies are recorded by the travelling nun Egeria, during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land (381–384). She reported that 14 February was solemnly kept in Jerusalem with a procession to the Basilica of the Resurrection, with a a sermon on Luke 2:22 (the Candlemas Gospel), and a celebration of the Divine Liturgy. The date of 14 February indicates that in Jerusalem at that time, Christ's birth was celebrated on 6 January, Epiphany. Egeria wrote to the nuns at home:
XXVI. "The fortieth day after the Epiphany is undoubtedly celebrated here with the very highest honour, for on that day there is a procession, in which all take part, in the Anastasis, and all things are done in their order with the greatest joy, just as at Easter. All the priests, and after them the bishop, preach, always taking for their subject that part of the Gospel where Joseph and Mary brought the Lord into the Temple on the fortieth day, and Simeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, saw him, treating of the words which they spake when they saw the Lord, and of that offering which his parents made. And when everything that is customary has been done in order, the sacrament is celebrated, and the dismissal takes place."
In 542 the feast was established throughout the Byzantine Empire by Justinian I. In 541 a terrible plague had broken out in Constantinople, killing thousands. The Emperor, in consultation with the Patriarch of Constantinople, ordered a period of fasting and prayer throughout the entire Empire. On the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord (the Orthodox name for Candlemas), there were great processions in towns and villages and solemn prayer services to ask for deliverance and the plague ceased. In thanksgiving, the feast was upgraded.
In the West, the feast 1st appears in the Gelasian Sacramentary (7th/8th centuries). There it was called the new title of the feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Candlemas is the most ancient of all the festivals in honor of the Virgin Mary. The date of the feast in Rome was moved forward to 2 February, after the late 4th century when the feast of the Nativity was fixed as 25 December. It spread slowly at first; not being found in the Lectionary of Silos (650) nor in the Calendar (731–741) of Sainte-Geneviève of Paris. By the tenth century the Benedictional of St. Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester, had a formula used for blessing the candles. Candlemas became important enough to find its way into the secular calendar. It was the traditional day to remove the cattle from the hay meadows, and from the field that was to be ploughed and sown that spring. References to it are common in late medieval and early Modern literature; Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is recorded as having its first performance on Candlemas Day, 1602.
Almighty and ever-living God,
on this day your Only-Begotten Son
was presented in the Temple,in flesh and blood like ours.
Purify us in mind and heart
that we may meet you in your glory.
through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God for ever and ever. Amen.