Non Solum: The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

by Fr. Jim Chepponis

Today’s Question: The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2, is celebrated this year on a Sunday. The last time this occurred was in the year 2003. The Mass begins with the blessing of candles and the procession. Two options are presented in the Roman Missal: the first is a gathering outside the main church followed by the procession; the second is a solemn entrance beginning either in front of the church door or inside the church itself. As far as I know, there is not a “third option” which omits the entrance ritual entirely, although I fear that some parishes will either be unprepared or not want to “be bothered” by the details.

If the celebrating community is small or is an intentional community (convent, monastery), the challenges are not as great as dealing with a large city or suburban parish with three or four Sunday Masses. So, it seems to me that there are many pastoral and practical issues that need to be addressed in order to make sure that the ritual is celebrated well.

Here is a checklist of sorts, along with some questions that need to be addressed:

1. Does the parish have enough candles available for the people? Chances are that the tapers stored in the sacristy closet from last year’s Easter Vigil may not be adequate.

2. Are the candle bobeches attached ahead of time? If so, who does this? Are the candles given to people as they enter church, or are they in the pews ahead of time? Who does this?

3. It seems to me that there needs to be some sort of announcement (by the cantor or whoever) before Mass even begins to tell the assembly what’s going on, as a form of hospitality. (e.g. “Please take the light from the candle and pass it on… turn your attention to the back of the church… join in singing… etc.)

4. How are the assembly’s candles lit… a “flick of the bic” or something more gracious? Unlike the Easter Vigil, there’s no mention in the ritual of any connection of the candle lighting with the Paschal Candle.

5. How many people are needed to make the candle lighting go smoothly, especially in a large church with people spread throughout the pews? Who does this? (Ushers, though well-intentioned, may not be the best choice!)

6. The Roman Missal states that the following antiphon may be sung during the candle lighting: “Behold, our Lord will come with power, to enlighten the eyes of his servants, alleluia.” However, no verses are given. Are suggested verses in some other liturgical book? The antiphon by itself is not long enough to cover the candle lighting. But the Missal does say that “another appropriate chant “ may be sung. Practically, if the assembly is expected to sing at this time, they can’t hold a lit candle in one hand and a hymnal in the other! A simple refrain might work best.

7. Once the candles are lit and the music is finished, the priest leads the sign of the cross and greets the people, and gives the introductory address. Then the priest says the prayer blessing the candles. The priest then sprinkles the candles with holy water. Does the rite presume that the candles to be blessed are the ones held by the assembly, rather than a box of candles on a table? No music is suggested at this time, but it might take some time for the priest to travel through the church for the sprinkling (perhaps similar to the way palms are blessed on Palm Sunday).

8. What music is used during the procession? The choices in the Roman Missal may not be long enough. (The first option is Simeon’s canticle in a refrain-and-verse style; the second is a long antiphon that seems meant for choir alone.) The Missal states that the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass is sung as the procession enters the church. Again, the antiphon is somewhat lengthy, perhaps meant for a choir. But what about Masses in which the choir is not present? If a different song is chosen with the expectation that the assembly participate, the assembly will still be holding lit candles, so a short refrain might work best.

9. After the priest has arrived at the altar, the Missal says that the Gloria is sung, followed by the Collect. Do we presume that the Penitential Act/Kyrie is omitted?

10. When are the assembly’s candles extinguished? If after the Collect, perhaps some kind of simple announcement needs to be made, e.g. “Please extinguish your candles and be seated for the Liturgy of the Word.”

11. There may be a lot of maintenance issues with the candles after Mass. From my experience, candles drip on the pews and on the hymnals; candles fall on the floor and are trampled upon; candles may even be placed in the hymnal racks!

12. Finally, communication with the priest, music ministers etc.is essential in order to avoid a liturgical disaster!

There really are a lot of practical issues concerning the opening rite of the Presentation of the Lord! How will you celebrate this feast in your parish or community? Any comments and “best practices” would be welcome.

Fr. Jim Chepponis is pastor of St. John Capistran Parish in Pittsburgh, PA. He is also Director of the Office for Music Ministry for the Pittsburgh Diocese and a published composer.

 

Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!

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33 comments

  1. This is also Scout Sunday, which at least in my experience means one Mass will be taken over by a conquering army of uniformed scouts parading about with flags. Ah when calendars collide!

  2. It’s also important to consider that some parishioners will take a Candlemas candle home. It is customary in many places to take a candle home, as it is a sacramental. In fact, in some cultures the Candlemas candle has a part in folk wisdom (some would say “superstition”).

    The inevitability that some candles will be taken home requires both both financial and practical considerations. If the amount of Candlemas candles aren’t replenished, eventually there will be a shortage.

  3. Actually, in my experience, the Presentation has been the day when parishes blessed and gave boxed sets of two wax candles to parishioners. They would be used for the administration of the Viaticum and the Sacrament of the Sick at home.

  4. We’ve ordered candles for every parishioner at every Mass and will bless them in the Church as a prelude to the processional. We may go outside for one of the Masses, as we do for Palm Sunday and Easter Vigil to do this, but have not determined that quite yet.

  5. This is interesting.

    I have no recent, i.e. last several decades, memories of celebrating ”Candlemas” in the Roman Rite. This is the snow belt and maybe it snowed on all those Sundays? Or maybe my memory is getting bad? But could it be that many parishes just don’t observe this in any noticeable fashion???

    I do remember celebrating the Feast of the” Meeting of the Lord” with his People in the local Orthodox parish, probably last year or the year before. They bless candles, too. However, the priest made it very clear that you had to put a dollar in the candle box if you wanted to take one home. I don’t remember taking part in a procession or holding a candle. It was more like other Orthodox feasts in which flowers, food, etc. which people bring are blessed to be taken home.

    I celebrate Candlemas at home with a 17 candle brass holder, two levels of eight candles plus one at the top. Something like a brass Christmas tree. It has half rose and half clear votive holders where the candles should be. Much easier to safely light little votive candles and put out that way. It makes for an impressive celebration. I use it on Candlemas and Pentecost.

  6. IIRC, with the reformed postconciliar calendar, the Presentation has fallen on Sunday in 1975, 1986, 1992, 1997, 2003 and 2014.

  7. I bring my own candles to church on Candlemas, to have them blessed and then take them back home with me (one can never have too many blessed candles at home, in my view). Also, I am not used to lighting the candles I bring into church at Candlemas — I bring them to be blessed for use in my home throughout the year, after all. So the candles — different colors, sizes, shapes, etc.) simply stay in their beautiful container during mass. To me, this is a good solution to a number of issues and problems raised in the blog post, e.g., no need for the parish to worry about procuring candles, no dripping candles during Mass, etc.

  8. My question is: Why is there an Entrance Antiphon given in the Missal while the rubrics do not call for it in either one of the forms given?

  9. Thanks Fr. Jim (and other commentators) – for addressing these preparations in a practical way. I am forwarding this post to my Liturgy Committee for their consideration.

  10. I see that the Graduale Romanum says that during the lighting of candles “Ecce Dominus noster” (“Behold our Lord will come”) is sung, or the specific antiphon “Luman ad revelationem” rather than, as in the Missal, another appropriate chant.

    On weekday celebrations I have used Lumen for both candle-lighting and the procession, with chant schola in Latin and/or assembly singing the English version from the new missal.

    awr

  11. I’m also forwarding this to my pastor and our worship commission.

    Re: Scout Sunday and calendar clashes: Around here, I expect it will also be a day for blessing throats after mass.

  12. Gosh I hate to interrupt these reflections with a provocative question, but when this feast was inaugurated candles were not decorations but sources of needed light? At such a time it was easy for people to see a sacred significance in the blessing of candles that would provide practical light and the light of Christ in their homes. While the use of candles continues in our rituals it is not because they are sources of needed light (save for the occasional vigil service or Taize prayer customarily held in the night) but because they are symbols of Christ our Light.
    Where there are people who have managed to retain a use for candles for power outages and the like, offering blessed candles on the Feast of the Presentation makes sense. But I wonder if it makes good sense to employ this rite in an age when candles are thought of as suitable for use in the sanctuary and in devotional areas but not regarded as important for the home. Karl, I can’t tell you how long it has been since anyone receiving communion in their home had one of those communion sets. Maybe it’s still done in Boston, but not out here in the southwest. Just saying.

  13. Where are the candles blessed? Upon the altar or on a table? At one time, they were blessed on the altar. Not sure which revision, but by 1962 they were blessed on table facing the people (Bugnini?) and the vestments were changed from violet to white (a first for a procession). If one is in a church where the priest faces the people, a table wouldn’t be needed, I guess. (Not needed for ad orientem either, but that is a separate question.)

  14. Re: Question #6, that antiphon was borrowed from Morning Prayer on the 2nd Sunday of Advent. There, it goes with Ps. 150, but I don’t think I’d make anything of that fact. Maybe some verses of Ps. 27 would work?

  15. Thanks to all who have participated in this discussion so far. But here’s another question to add to my original post: Is the opening rite for this feast really meant as a blessing of candles or as a blessing of the PEOPLE who carry the candles?

    It’s interesting to note that the Roman Missal gives two options for the blessing prayer. The first option actually blesses the candles, but references those who carry them: “O God…sanctify with your blessing these candles, which we are eager to carry in praise of your name, so that, treading the path of virtue, we may reach the light that never fails.”

    The second blessing prayer option doesn’t even seem to actually bless the candles! Here’s the whole prayer: “O God, true light, who created light eternal, spreading it far and wide, pour, we pray, into the hearts of the faithful the brilliance of perpetual light, so that all who are brightened in your holy temple by the splendor of these candles may happily reach the light of your glory.”

    I’m not disparaging some of the beautiful customs folks have mentioned in these comments about taking blessed candles home. But is the blessing of candles for home use really what this rite is all about?

    I’m not an expert on the history of the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Could it be that some pre-Vatican II customs and ritual elements are mixing in with the current rite as given in the Roman Missal?

    1. @Fr. Jim Chepponis – comment #19:

      Jim,

      The theological confusion divergence of emphasis in those prayers is well known, one blessing the candles, the other the people.

      It’s the same on Palm Sunday, when the first prayer says very clearly “…sanctify these branches…” but the second one gives us “Increase the faith of those who place their hope in you, O God, and graciously hear the prayers of those who call on you, that we, who today hold high these branches to hail Christ in his triumph, may bear fruit for you by good works accomplished in him” which is a sort of invocation over the people.

      I would never use that second Palm Sunday prayer on no other grounds than that it creates ambiguity, making it sound as if there are three groups of people: those who place their hope in you, those who call on you, and we who today hold high these branches. The dangers of using a literal translation are there for all to see.

      Reverting to the Presentation of the Lord, it may be important to check the texts to be used ahead of time. The introductory address, for example (#4) includes the lines “So let us also, gathered together by the Holy Spirit,
      proceed to the house of God to encounter Christ.” That’s fine if you are starting outside the church, but the rite also suggests, #11, that this same address be used in the Solemn Entrance inside the church. The redeeming feature is the rubric in #4, “He may use these or similar words”, but this means good preparation ahead of time to avoid these and other unexpected pitfalls.

  16. I think there could be some mixing of the EF and the OF here. In the EF the Feast is known as the “Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary” and the blessing of candles takes place in the sanctuary either in the center before the altar or on the epistle side. These are blessed with the option of one of five prayers, the first four clearly a blessing of candles and the 5th similar to the second option in the OF. Then after the blessing these are sprinkled and incensed. Then the candles are distributed to those in the sanctuary and nave and then there is a procession with lighted candles although it is not clear how this takes place since the blessing occurred in the sanctuary.

    The OF’s first choice is for all, clergy and laity to gather in a separate place from the Church, a smaller chapel, outside or a large narthex. Candles are distributed to all before the Liturgy begins and are lighted as the antiphon is chanted. Then there are the two options for blessing, the first more directly for the candles. Then all process into the Church for the Mass with appropriate antiphons chanted.

    In neither the EF or the OF do the liturgical books mention the blessing of home candles. This must be some ethic custom from Europe? Nor is there any mention of blessing the candles that are used that year for the liturgy.

    Both forms of the Mass do have a blessing possible without procession.

    BTW, the legend of the Ground Hog comes from this feast and the lighted candles outside on this date that causes him to think it is daylight, being fooled by the lights of the candles.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #20:
      Father, I think that all five prayers are to be read; they aren’t options, just like on Palm Sunday all seven (?) are to be read. Having multiple prayers helps give “weight” to the moment and explores different perspectives, which is why I don’t like just one prayer in the NO.

      1. @Christopher Douglas – comment #22:
        You are correct, I was looking at the 1965 interim missal which is basically the 1962 missal that allows for English and some minor rubrical adaptations. The 1962 has all prayers in Latin and all five are said, but the 1965 gives the choice of one of the five. Apart from that the rubrics and prayers are identical. But I must admit saying all five is a bit redundant as these are clearly individual blessings.

      2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #23:
        Father, not trying to be argumentative, but I want to posit another idea: One man’s redundant is another man’s stasis, for lack of a better term. I don’t think that dynamism is always to be preferred over stasis. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to expand, but I will tomorrow. All the best, and Happy New Year.

    2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #20:

      Do they really still call it “Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary”?

      No one is jumping up and down, denouncing this as heresy? If ever there were two people who did not need purification, it was this mother and child.

  17. @Jim McKay
    It’s no more heresy than saying Jesus needed to be baptised with John’s “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4)

  18. I’m curious what people do in places where there is a concern about open flames, more stringent fire codes, etc. ? Do they go electric, or bless only a representative stock (e.g. of altar candles) or something else? Does a blessing of candles even take place? If not, how are these dimensions of the feast brought out when it occurs on a Sunday?

      1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #29:

        Actually, it was remembering precisely that context that prompted the question. My home parish, for example, faithfully puts up an announcement every Triduum reminding people that no candles are allowed inside the church. Recently, at one place, I was handed a coloured spring-loaded tube which had one of those small , round, battery-operated candles at the top…..

  19. If anyone’s still looking at this thread, which by now has been dormant for a few days…

    As I ponder how we’ll execute these introductory rites, I wonder about the use of the Paschal Candle as the “source” for lighting the various candles.

    While the feast itself isn’t connected to baptism or Easter, the Paschal Candle is the ur-symbol of Christ the Light of the world. So, it seems appropriate…or at least it doesn’t strike me as inappropriate.

    Yet the Missal itself doesn’t envision this. Nor does it prohibit.

    It doesn’t seem problematic to use it, especially since ours is at the font, right near the doors of the church where we’ll do the Solemn Entrance. It would almost seem more odd to have a little “pilot light” serving as source, with the Paschal Candle unlit.

    Yet, something about lighting the Advent Wreath from the Paschal Candle seems odd…

    Anyway…any thoughts on this one way or the other?

  20. to #31 Jeremy

    I have never seen the Advent wreath lit by the Paschal candle. I honestly think of it as a cool idea!

    On a whole other side thread, the Advent wreath is supposed to a sacramental in the HOME – as I understand it – I’m actually curious as to why so many churches have it in the church and make such a big deal out of blessing the wreath at ALL masses the 1st Sunday of Advent. Isn’t a wreath once blessed not in need of a 2nd-5th etc. blessing at each mass?

  21. The two prayers for the blessing of the candles are both beautiful, as are so many of the wonderfully revised translations in the 3rd edition of the Missal. I will use the first for the blessing of candles and adapt the second for the collect to the Universal Prayers.

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