In ancient pagan ceremonies, the lighted candles on Candlemas day had many meanings, one of which was to mark the middle of winter, looking forward to the coming of spring. In the traditions of Christianity, the Feast of the Presentation (or Purification of Mary) on February 2nd is still known as Candlemas day. Over the ages, processions were held in our churches with participants carrying lighted candles to symbolize that Jesus Christ is the Light, the Truth, and the Way. Even till today, we light candles at our altars as the symbol of Christ’s presence with us at every Liturgy, at every gathering for prayer. On Candlemas day, it has become a tradition in many churches to bless the year’s supply of candles that will be used at all Liturgies.
The lighted candle has many meanings for us: the steady glow of the candle we light for prayer, symbolizing Christ in our presence; the warm flame of the candles that welcome family and friends to our table. Or the birthday candles that gleefully flicker in celebration of life; the guiding light of the beacon candle that sees us through the darkness when our modern technology fails us.
I recall my retreats at Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. The church for the monks is a long space. I would rise at 4:30 am, dress, run to the kitchen for a cup of coffee (which was always available, thank you!) and wind my way through the corridors and staircases to the balcony of the church. It was dark. I would sit quietly in the balcony where the only thing visible was the glow of the Sanctuary light, waaaay up front, next to the Tabernacle. I cherish the memory of mesmerizing prayer in that space, until I would hear the first ruffle of a monk’s robes, coming in to prepare for Mass.
Before today’s Gospel, we pray the Gospel Acclamation:
“A Lamp to my feet is your word, a light to my path.” (Ps 119:105)
I have always found this to be one of the most comforting images in Scripture. Knowing that Christ is our Light, guiding us as the beacon through life. He enlightens us with His presence and his Word, always giving us what we need to get through the darkness of night, fear, despair, depression or uncertainty. I find that physically lighting a candle when praying goes a long way to calm my mind and uplift my spirit.
Not everyone travels in darkness, but all of us seek answers in one way or another. Keeping that light near will remind us we are not alone – ever! Christ is the Light to the Nations, the Dispeller of Darkness.
Light a candle today. Light up the rooms of your heart to feel the warmth of Christ’s presence. Use the Word of God to enlighten, strengthen and comfort you along your journey.
Jeanne Penoyar, an Accounts Manager here at Diocesan, is currently a Lector at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Grand Rapids, MI. While at St. Thomas the Apostle, Grand Rapids, Jeanne was a Lector, Cantor, Coordinator of Special Liturgies, Coordinator of lectors and, at one time, chair of the Liturgy Commission. In a past life, secretary/bookkeeper at the Basilica of St. Adalbert where she ran the RCIA program for the Steepletown parishes. And she loves to write! When relaxing, she likes reading and word puzzles.