Candlemas, Feast Of the Presentation,

According to Mosaic law, only the mother needed to be purified, but, as a firstborn son, Jesus needed to be redeemed (Exodus 13:11ff). Thus the feast of the Presentation is logically celebrated 40 days after Christmas.

The earliest information regarding the celebration of this feast comes from Egeria, a woman who described her pilgrimage to the Holy Land around the year 390. Although she makes no mention of the use of candles, she relates the sermon as being inspired by Simeon's phrase regarding Christ as "Light of the nations."

In this context it is easy to see how the use of torches and candles came to be used, and there is already clear evidence of their use some years later in Egypt (around 440) and in Rome between the years 450 and 457.

The history of the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is most complex.

The feast of the Epiphany, which means manifestation, was initiated among Eastern Christians. It celebrates three manifestations of Christ's divinity in one: his manifestation to the Magi, his baptism in the Jordan, and the wedding feast at Cana in which he performed his first miracle.

Even though the Roman-rite celebration of the Epiphany gives pride of place to Christ's manifestation to the three wise men, the prayers of the Mass and the divine office still have vestiges of the earlier, triple memorial.

In Rome, probably due to Byzantine influences, Our Lord's baptism, while not quite a feast, was commemorated in a special way on the octave of the Epiphany from the eighth century on. The principal offices used the same psalms as on Jan. 6, but the antiphons referred to the theme of Christ's baptism.

The octave of the Epiphany, along with many others, was suppressed by Pope John XXIII in 1960. But the same Holy Father decided that the pre-existing memorial of Christ's baptism should be given greater emphasis by transforming it into a special commemoration of the Lord celebrated on Jan. 13, the former octave of the Epiphany.

The post-Vatican II reform decided to locate this feast on the Sunday after the Epiphany, thus officially concluding Christmastide and inaugurating ordinary time.

Before John XXIII's reform, Christmastide ended on the Presentation. This feast remains as a kind of appendix to Christmas as is testified by some popular traditions such as not removing the Nativity scene until after Feb. 2 as is the practice in St. Peter's Square.

More from Elena-Maria Vidal at Tea at Trianon
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