Today is Candlemas Eve, and tomorrow is the Feast of the Purification, as it is traditionally called. It celebrates also the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. We call it Candlemas because, with the references to light in the liturgy, we bless candles.
Candlemas is the conclusion of the Advent/Christmas cycle. We are 40 days from the Nativity of our Lord. Liturgically, the Marian Antiphon and response changes. We have been singing Alma Redemptoris Mater since the beginning of Advent. This ends on Candlemas. Hereafter we sing Ave Regina Cælorum through Lent until Spy Wednesday of Holy Week.
Because of the antiquity of the feast, there are many cultural traditions for its celebration. For example, in some French speaking regions it is customary to eat crêpes, in Mexico tamales. I am contemplating the resurrection of a Christmas pudding of several years vintage which I discovered hiding in the back of a cupboard.
Here are some poems for Candlemas.
First and foremost, making a reference to the removal of Christmas decorations, is a lovely poem by Robert Herrick (+1674). In some places, people take down their decorations on Twelfth Night. In others, Candlemas. This poem traces something of the shifting seasons of the liturgical year and reminds us of the bitter and sweet passing of time.
Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve
by Robert Herrick
Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall :
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind :
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.
And the longer version of the same…
Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletow;
Instead of holly now upraise
The greener box for show.
The holly hitherto did sway,
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter’s Eve appear.
Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.
When yew is out, then birth comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin,
To honour Whitsuntide. [Pentecost]
Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comly ornaments,
To readorn the house.
Thus times do shift;
Each thing his turn doth hold;
New things succeed,
As former things grow old.
Here is something quite old and in an ancestor of Modern English. It is from a manuscript in the Bodleian Library (MS Eng. poet. e. I, f. 38 f.). To pronounce it you have to get some of the Norman French back into your tongue. Here is is with a cheat version.
When I hear that Latin revértere, I immediately call to mind two moments in the Old Testament. First, in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, Jerusalem is called to “turn about and go back” to the Lord. Also, and more important for this carol, the Song of Songs comes up: Revertere revertere Sulamitis revertere revertere ut intueamur te HERE
The queen of blysse and of beaute.
The queen of bliss and of beauty.
|Behold what lyfe that we ryne ine,
Frayl to fale and ever lyke to syne
Thorow owr enmys entysyng;
Therefor we syng and cry to the:
|Behold what life that we run in,
Frail to fall and ever like to sin
Through our enemy’s enticing;
Therefore we sing and cry to thee:
|Come hyder, Lady, fayryst floure,
And kepe us, Lady, from doloure;
Defend us, Lady, and be owr socoure,
For we cease not to cal to the:
|Come hither, Lady, fairest flower,
And keep us, Lady, from dolour;
Defend us, Lady, and be our succour,
For we cease not to call to thee:
|Torne owr lyfe, Lady, to Goddys luste,
Syne to fle and fleschly luste,
For aftur hym in the we trust
To kep us frome adversyte.
|Turn our life, Lady, to God’s lust, [pleasure]
Sin to flee and fleshly lust,
For, after him, in thee we trust
To keep us from adversity.
|Thys holy day of Puryfycacyon
To the temple thou bare owr salvacyon
Jhesu Cryst, thin own swet Sone,
To whome thefor now syng we:
|This holy day of Purification
To the temple thou bare our salvation,
Jesu Christ, thine own sweet Son,
To whom therefore now sing we:
|Farwell, Crystmas gayer and fre!
Farwell, Newers Day with the!
Farwell, the holy Epyphane!
And to Mary now syng we:
|Farewell, Christmas fair and free!
Farewell, New Year’s Day with thee!
Farewell, the holy Epiphany!
And to Mary now sing we:
Revertere… turn around and for the last time gaze back at the joy of Christmas.
Of course we have to have something from Rossetti (+1894)
A Candlemas Dialogue
by Christina Georgina Rossetti (after 1891)
‘Love brought Me down: and cannot love make thee
Carol for joy to Me?
Hear cheerful robin carol from his tree,
Who owes not half to Me
I won for thee.’
‘Yea, Lord, I hear his carol’s wordless voice;
And well may he rejoice
Who hath not heard of death’s discordant noise.
So might I too rejoice
With such a voice.’
‘True, thou hast compassed death: but hast not thou
The tree of life’s own bough?
Am I not Life and Resurrection now?
My Cross, balm-bearing bough
For such as thou.’
‘Ah me, Thy Cross! – but that seems far away;
Thy Cradle-song to-day
I too would raise and worship Thee and pray:
Not empty, Lord, to-day
Send me away.’
‘If thou wilt not go empty, spend thy store;
And I will give thee more,
Yea, make thee ten times richer than before.
Give more and give yet more
Out of thy store.’
‘Because Thou givest me Thyself, I will
Thy blessed word fulfil,
Give with both hands, and hoard by giving still:
Thy pleasure to fulfil,
And work Thy Will.’
How about a couple more?
Sr. M. Bernetta, O.S.F. Robert, Cyril. Our Lady’s Praise In Poetry.
Poughkeepsie, New York: Marist Press, 1944.
Out went the stupid to wash the snow,
To cleanse the lily of Christ.
Wouldn’t you think that they all should know
The pearl who couldn’t be priced?
Wiser to purify the crystal stone,
To call the tulip unclean,
Than to wash the rose that God’s hand had sown,
Young Mary, the innocent Queen.
Francesca Franciscan Magazine – February 1960
The Mother brings her Candle
To the Temple of Desire,
In wax of flesh and weakness
But soul-wick full of fire!
A light to pierce the darkness,
Redemption for our race,
The gift of expiation
Before our Father’s face!
A flame of contradiction
To tyrant, Gentile, Jew,
But holocaust for ages,
Each dawn will see anew!
O take your Candle, Mary,
Too soon you’ll suffer loss
In Love’s great conflagration
On the altar of the Cross!