Sunday, February 3, 2008

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord: Candlemas: The Purification of the BVM

This special and beautiful feast just occurred in the church calendar yesterday, and unfortunately in much of the Church in America went unnoticed! If some of you don't know, this feast is actually one of the most ancient revelatory feasts about our Lord, and also about our Lady, originating in Jerusalem? So why is it we don't celebrate it anymore? Why is it that priests do not encourage my their example and teaching? This feast gives us one of the best ties with the Eastern catholic Church, since it was spread from there to the West. However, much of that East-West connection has been lost, and i would like to show how. First i will answer the question of why: because of the simplifying "revisions" of "implementing" Vatican II.
Now i'm not saying the teachings of Vatican II are bad, and I won't get into all my views about the liturgical calendar as a whole, but i must say when i compared the liturgies of Feb. 2nd, old and new, i was disappointed in the new mass when it comes to celebrating this feast.

The biggest differences is at the very beginning of the feast celebration. Historically, meaning from the middle ages all the way up till 1962, there have been 5 orations (prayers) to bless the candles that use much symbolism of fire and light and how they express our faith and Christ. These prayers are ancient and of Eastern origin. Then the candles are incensed and sprinkled with holy water, and then distributed to the priests and laity. During the distribution the choir sings the canticle of Simeon (Nunc dimittis) and the antiphon"Lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuæ Israel" is sung after every verse until all the candles are passed out and lit. Then as the procession starts (going outside), the choir sings the antiphon "Adorna thalamum tuum, Sion", composed by St. John of Damascus, one of the few pieces which, text and music, have been borrowed by the Roman Church from the Greeks. The other antiphons are of Roman origin. The solemn procession represents the entry of Christ, who is the Light of the World, into the Temple of Jerusalem. there is a certain chant that is begun upon the congregations reentry into the church, and then the mass began right away and followed the structure of any normal mass with all the proper chants, Kyrie, gloria, etc.
Now compare this with the "new" liturgy: The 5 ancient orations have been done away with and replaced with one simple prayer. Not only that, but the candles are not all first blessed and then given to the people, they are handed out to the people and THEN blessed, which is really an odd way of blessing something! This also then means that the canticle of Simeon is NOT sung while candles are being passed out, the chant with its antiphon is not part of the ritual at all! There is actually a whole new created chant that is suggested to be sung, even though it is way to short to accompany the passing out of the candles. Also, how is the priest supposed to sprinkle all the candles with holy water when everyone is holding them first. Thankfully, the "Adorna..." chant is retained to be sung during the procession, but the one upon reentering the church has been changed to just chanting the introit, even though techincally, the procession is not yet done. Then, probably one of the strangest things, is that the missal says the Kyrie should be ommitted! (but the gloria is still sung). I have NEVER BEFORE seen instructions in a mass for the Kyrie to be omitted. the gloria, yes, during penitential seasons, but the Kyrie??

One last smaller difference: In the older rites, the people were to again hold their candles lit through the proclamation of the Gospel (and also throughout the whole Canon i believe), which is removed in the new rite.

So many rich meaningful prayers, rituals, and symbols have been lost!! Celebrating candlemas in the new rite of the mass can still be beautiful, but if done according to the books, it lacks A LOT of depth compared to the rich historical rituals and prayers that it used to have. Although, i have to wonder if you could change some things so that the structure looks more like the traditional structure in the beginning. I know you probably couldn't just ADD the 5 orations in, but maybe you could possibly bless all the candles together, and just sing the nunc dimittis anyway as candles are being distributed. And maybe you could just sing the old reentry chant anyway, THEn the introit, and hold lit candles during the gospel. maybe I am wrong in hoping that such changes could just be done, but i don't see how it would harm anything, if anything it would help to give the whole blessing and processional more coherence and structure.
Oh, one last thing: supposedly the priest can also choose right before distributing the candles, to give a short instruction about the meaning of the procession and the prayers, etc.

I pray that the Feast of the Presentation will someday become more celebrated in the church and will advocate for it to be done wherever I go, especially to have it done in the extraordinary form which makes evident the rich history of the feast and the East-West connection of the church much more clearly. It is a beautiful feast to be done in the evening on Feb. 2nd so that the candlelit procession is in the dark : - )

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