Candle; Candlemas

The use of candles as ornaments in the Western Church probably had its origin in the lighted candles which were carried in procession before the bishop of Rome and then placed behind the altar. By 1200 two candles were actually put on the altar of the papal chapel and the custom, using more candles, quickly spread. They are now lit in both the East and West during liturgical services. Smaller candles, votive candles, are lit by worshipers and placed in front of statues of saints, especially before the Virgin Mary. In the Church of England the legality of two candles on the holy table was established by the Lincoln Judgment of 1890; the Lambeth Opinion of 1899 condemned the carrying of candles in procession; both these rulings are now widely disobeyed, and many parish churches follow Roman Catholic practice.

Candlemas is the feast which commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38). Originally a festival of the church in Jerusalem which began about 350, it became widespread after Emperor Justinian ordered its observance at Constantinople in 542. In the East the festival is called “The Meeting” (i.e., of Jesus and Simeon in the Temple). The major rite of the day in the West is the blessing and distribution of candles of beeswax to the singing of the Nunc Dimittis and in commemoration of Christ as the “Light of the World.”