Saturday, 30 January 2010

Candlemass anticipated

Rather shamefacedly, I have to admit we are celebrating the Presentation of the Lord tomorrow. For many years now we have transferred the feast to the nearest Sunday. In a group of country parishes which don’t have the luxury of large weekday congregations, my own preference, although a somewhat uneasy one, is for as many people as possible here to experience the Church’s significant feasts and liturgies; the British countryside is not known for its fervent adherence to the Catholic faith (at least not since Mary Tudor of blessed memory.) I hope it may be possible as the Ordinariate comes into being and gains strength that not all its parishes might be situated in urban areas – one can dream!

These are extracts from sermons for the Feast of the Purification by Mark Frank, the Caroline Divine (and steadfast opponent of seventeenth century puritanism), his writings being a rather neglected part of our patrimony.

“It is Candlemas to-day,--so called from the lighting up of candles, offering them, consecrating them, and bearing them in procession; a custom from the time of Justinian the Emperor, at the latest about 1100 years ago; or as others say, Pope Gelasius, anno 496, or thereabouts;--to show that long expected Light of the Gentiles was now come, was now sprung up, and shined brighter than the sun at noon, and might be taken in our hands. Let the ceremony pass, reserve the substance; light up the two candles of faith and good works, light them with the fire of charity; bear we them burning in our hands, as Christ commands us; meet we him 'with our lamps burning;' consecrate we also them, all our works and actions, with our prayers; offer we them, all our works and actions, with our prayers; offer we them upon the altars of the God of our salvation, bini et bini, as S. Bernard speaks, as in procession, 'two and two,' in peace and unity together; and with this solemnity and preparation, we poor oxen and asses may come and approach to our Master's crib. The crib is the outward elements, wherein he lies wrapped up; they are the swaddling clothes and mantles, with which his body is covered when he is now offered up to God, and taken up by us. Take them, and take him; the candle of faith will there show you him, and the candle of charity will light him down into your arms, that you may embrace him. We embrace where we love, we take into our arms whom we love; so that love Jesus and embrace Jesus--love Jesus and take Jesus--love Jesus and take him into our hands, and into our arms, and into our mouths, and into our hearts.”
from the first sermon on the Feast of the Purification

“Light up now your candles at this evening sacrifice, for the glory of your morning sacrifice: it is Candlemas. Become we all burning and shining lights, to do honour to this day, and the blessed armful of it. Let your souls shine bright with grace, your hands with good works; let God see it, and let man see it; so bless we God. Walk we "as children of the light," as so many walking lights; and offer we ourselves up like so many holy candles to the Father of Light. Be ye sure we light all our lights at this Babe’s eyes, that lies so enfolded in our arms; and neither use nor acknowledge any other light for better than darkness, that all our best thoughts, and words, and works, must humbly now attend like so many pretty sparks, or rays, or glimmerings, darted from and perpetually reflecting thankfully to that glorious Light; from this day beginning our blessing God, the only lightsome kind of life, till we come to the land of light, there to offer up continual praises, since endless Benedicites and Alleujas, no longer according to the laws or customs upon earth, but after the manner of heaven, and in the choir of angels, with holy Simeon, and Anna, and Mary, and Joseph, all the saints in light and glory everlasting. Amen, amen.
He of his mercy bring us thither, who is the light to conduct us thither; he lead us by the hand, who this day came to lie in our arms; he make all our offerings accepted, who was at this feast presented for us; be bless all our blessings, who this day so blessed us with his presence that we might bless him again; and he one day, in our several due times, receive our spirits into his hands, our souls into his arms, our bodies into his rest, who this day was taken corporally into Simeon's arms, has this day vouchsafed to be spiritually taken into ours,—Jesus the Holy Child, the Eternal Son of God the Father. To whom, with the Holy Spirit, be all honour, and praise, and glory, and blessing, from henceforth and for evermore. Amen.”
from Frank's second sermon for the Feast of the Purification

The video, recorded in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford, is of the Sarum liturgy for Candlemass to which Frank clearly looks back wistfully and, it would seem, with much regret at its passing.

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