CANDLEMAS (Lat. festum candelarum sive luminum), the name for the ancient church festival, celebrated annually on the 2nd of February, in commemoration of the presentation of Christ in the Temple. In the Greek Church it is known as Ύπαπάντη τοῦ Κυρίου (“the meeting of the Lord,” i.e. with Simeon and Anna), in the West as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. It is the most ancient of all the festivals in honour of the Virgin Mary. A description is given of its celebration at Jerusalem in the Peregrinatio of Etheria (Silvia), in the second half of the 4th century. It was then kept on the 14th of February, forty days after Epiphany, the celebration of the Nativity (Christmas) not having been as yet introduced; the Armenians still keep it on this day, as “the Coming of the Son of God into the Temple.” The celebration gradually spread to other parts of the church, being moved to the 2nd of February, forty days after the newly established feast of Christmas. In 542 it was established throughout the entire East Roman empire by Justinian. Its introduction in the West is somewhat obscure. The 8th-century Gelasian Sacramentary, which embodies a much older tradition, mentions it under the title of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which has led some to suppose that it was ordained by Pope Gelasius I. in 492 as a counter-attraction to the heathen Lupercalia; but for this there is no warrant. The procession on this day was introduced by Pope Sergius I. (687-701). The custom of blessing the candles for the whole year on this day, whence the name Candlemas is derived, did not come into common use until the 11th century.
In the Quadragesimae de Epiphania as described by Etheria there is, as Monsignor Duchesne points out (Christian Worship, p. 272), no indication of a special association with the Blessed Virgin; and the distinction between the festival as celebrated in the East and West is that in the former it is a festival of Christ, in the latter a festival pre-eminently of the Virgin Mother.
See L. Duchesne, Christian Worship (Eng. trans., London, 1904); art. s.v. by F. G. Holweck in the Catholic Encyclopaedia.
- So Baronius, Ann. ad ann. 544.