What is Candlemas, the feast day celebrated by Catholics?

Candles are traditionally lit during Candlemas  (PA)
Candles are traditionally lit during Candlemas (PA)

Forty days after Christmas, the Catholic Church observes the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

The feast, which is also known as Candlemas, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Hypapante.

Despite not being a holy day of obligation, it is a significant day in the Church's calendar, one that marks the conclusion of the Christmas Cycle and anticipates the light that will vanquish all darkness at the Easter Vigil.

But what exactly is Candlemas and when is it?

What is Candlemas?

Candlemas is a Catholic festival to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary, after childbirth, according to Jewish law and the presentation of Christ in the Temple.

Candles were traditionally blessed at this festival hence its name, Candlemas.

When is Candlemas and how is it observed?

Candlemas is observed on February 2 each year.

You can take part by attending mass celebrating the Feast of the Presentation or lighting a candle for goodwill, charity, or selflessness.

In many Eastern European countries, the Feast of the Presentation officially closes the celebration of Christmas. For this reason, Blessed John Paul II began the custom of keeping the Nativity scene in St Peter’s Square, Vatican City, until February 2

The origins of Candlemas

According to the Book of Leviticus (12:1-4), the Mosaic Law stated that a mother, like Mary, who gave birth to a male child was considered unclean for seven days and was to spend an additional 33 days “in the blood of her purification”, for example, outside the temple. The length of time a woman was prohibited from entering the sanctuary was increased if she gave birth to a daughter.

The mother was instructed to “bring to the temple a lamb for a holocaust and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin” when the time (40 or 80 days) was up. If she was unable to do so, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons instead. The priest then prayed for her, and she was thus cleansed.

Mary followed this command of the law 40 days after the birth of Christ. In the presence of Anna the prophetess, she redeemed her first-born from the temple and was made pure by Simeon the just's prayer.