Category Archives: Holidays

Candlemas

I’m a Catholic because I love the Lord, not out of any desire for old world culture. That for me is just a really great perk of being Catholic.

I love those big feasts of the Church, where the great and ancient tradition seems to become larger than life, filling your heart with incense and candlelight, like the Easter vigil, or midnight Mass. They call you back, they remind you that your entire lifetime is but a flickering candle in the dark, and your entire age is just one more moment in an everlasting procession. It’s a deep feeling of belonging that is truly indescribable.

Then there are those small, almost cultural feasts that seem to fill out the edges. If Pentecost is the cake, Candlemas is the frosting.

Yes, I know, it’s not officially called Candlemas anymore, it’s the Feast of the Presentation, but we bless candles on that day, so dangit, it’s Candlemas. For generation upon generation we have celebrated this day. We have blessed our yearly portion of candles on this day for as long as we can remember. (Did you know groundhog day is based on the tradition of basing weather forecasts on Candlemas?)

Now to you and me, this makes a lot of sense. Candles are special things, and lighting candles generally only happen on special days. We light candles at our dinner table when we want to make the meal special, we put candles on our birthday cakes and it brings light, a dangerous fire hazard and a wish. We light a couple candles when we have guests, or just to make the house smell nice. There is one thing we do not do however.

We do not light candles so that we can see.

But just a hundred years ago, that is what candles were for. They were light bulbs. Nothing all that special, and just a bit more expensive then we would like. I bet we even complained about the rising prices of candles, and their decrease in quality. They were right up there with tissue paper, just a household item.

This is what I love about Candlemas. It is making the normal day to day things holy. Setting them aside for a more divine purpose. It is not so much about taking something rather special and making it more so. Quite the opposite. It takes the completely mundane, and makes it something so holy that it can only be used to serve God Himself.

Viewed in this light, Candlemas is an allegory to the entire Christian life. Is that not what we are all called to do, make the mundane holy? To take our seconds, minutes and hours and give them to Christ? To take our boring mundane bodies and hearts of cold wax, and to set them on fire?

The Moment I Felt Called

I don’t think every person has one singular major turning point in their lives. I’ll be the first to admit that it does happen to a lot of people, but not everyone. For me, my life as been a collection of small turning points, a nudge here, a push there, never anything major, just minor shifts that add up to large changes over time.

There was a moment that I do remember, and it is one that had to be repeated several times before I really got the point. Our Lord know very well that I am a bit of a dolt, and so in His great patience with me, has repeated this event over and over, just to make sure I would get the point.

Ten years ago, I entered the Church through the RCIA process. It was an amazing experience, but I’ll have to save that for another post. When our family came into the Church, it was a full family experience. My daughters and I were baptized together, my wife and I were confirmed, received our first Eucharist, and had our marriage vows blessed all in one night. It was rather like a semi-automatic rifle, one shot right after another with no space in between.

With such madness, it is hard to grab anything more than impressions. It’s not unlike the day one is married, and between the ceremony, the family, the reception, and the honeymoon, it’s hard to gather any real meaning at the time. It is in retrospect that the true meanings begin to play in our lives. It makes you really understand why Mary always held her thoughts in her heart, meditating on them for years afterwards. It was simply too much to understand in any immediate fashion.

My one “deacon experience” happened that night. I remember coming into the Church all dark after having built a fire outside. Watching everyone process in with candles, the light flickering throughout the church gave such a great sense of timelessness, like we were a part of some great, eternal ritual. We then sat in quiet, full of expectation.

Then his voice began to cry out. The deacon began to sing a song, deeply rhythmic, and yet very personal. I did not cry as I watched my daughters get baptized. I did not cry for any of the Sacraments I received that evening.

But when the deacon sang the Exsultet, tears streamed down my face.

Years have passed since that night, and my life is very different than it was then. There is still one Mass every year that I must attend. It is not Easter until I have heard the gospel sung out through the darkness, reverberating through my body, wrenching on my soul. It is a signal moment for me, and I cannot help but cry with joy every year.

This is the night. Oh happy fault, which gained for us so great a Redeemer. This is the night.

I have always known that I must sing this song of gladness. Every year, my heart sings it for me, right along with the deacon. I want to run through the streets belting it out like a team of overzealous Christmas carolers. I come home glowing, bathed in the candlelight of that Easter morning.

I realize it’s months away, and I should have timed this closer to Easter, but if you have never had the chance to make it to the Easter vigil, make time this year.