On this day: Candlemas

On this day we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the Purification of the Virgin Mary, Candlemas.

"Why do we in this feast carry candles? Because the Gentiles dedicated the month of February to the infernal gods, and as at the beginning of it Pluto stole Proserpine, and her mother Ceres sought her in the night with lighted candles, so they, at the beginning of this month, walked about the city with lighted candles. Because the holy fathers could not extirpate this custom, they ordained that Christians should carry about candles in honor of the Blessed Virgin; and thus what was done before to the honor of Ceres is now done to the honor of the Virgin."

--from a Sermon of Pope Innocent XII, quoted in Curiosities of Popular Customs and of Rites, Ceremonies, Observances, and Miscellaneous Antiquities, by William S. Walsh, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1897.

Innocent XII, who succeeded Alexander VIII in 1691, was educated by Jesuits at their college in Rome. His allusion to Ceres on Candlemas Day was an apt one, for Ceres was Demeter, a bear goddess worshipped in "the Bronze Age twilight of Neolithic religions," when "the rich figure of the legendary bear spread itself across the conclave of Mediterranean gods." "Demeter came in time to oversee fruition in agriculture, but in her origins there were no farms."

--from The Sacred Paw: The Bear in Nature, Myth, and Literature, by Paul Shepard and Barry Sanders,Viking, 1985.

Candlemas Day is halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The days are getting longer. Our neolithic ancestors took hope from the increasing brightness and the awakening of bears from hibernation.

"In Silesia, Hungary, and Carinthia, the feast of Candlemas is still called Bear's Day, and on that day the bear emerges from his den, the belief goes, to discover whether or not he has cast a shadow. If he casts a shadow, he must remove himself to his den for six more weeks of slumber."

On this day we light candles. "Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light."

--from a sermon of St. Sophronius, Office of Readings for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

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