Historically, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple would involve the blessing of candles by the local priest — hence ‘Candlemas’. Also, as we shall see in what I am about to post, people carried their own candles, at least in the twelfth century. And why carry lights? What is the significance of light? Let us remember that Christ is the Light of the World. Here is Cistercian abbot Guerric of Igny (1070-1157), from a sermon for this feast:
But let us rather discuss, if you will, the lovely custom in the Church of bearing liths on this feast-day, and how it bodies forth what was done in the past and also what we should be doing now. Not that I suppose you are unaware of this, even if it has never been set out for you. Which of you today, bearing a lighted candle in his hands, does not instantly call to mind the old man who took Jesus in his arms this day — the Word clothed in flesh as the candle-flame is cupped in wax — declaring him to be the light that would enlighten the Gentiles. And Simeon was himself a lamp lit and shining, bearing witness to the light, he who came at the Spirit’s prompting into the temple, to receive, O God, in the midst of the temple your loving-kindness, and to proclaim him to be indeed your loving-kindness and the light of your people.
Ah! brothers, look where the candle burns in Simeon’s hands; that is the light to light your tapers from, those lamps which the Lord would have you holding. Go to him and you will be lit up, not so much bearers of almps as lamps yourselves, shining within and without, lighting yourselves and your neighbours. May this lamp be in heart and hand and mouth: a lamp in your heart to light yourself, a lamp in your hands and on your lips to light your neighbours. The light in your heart is loving faith; the lamp in your hands is the example of good deeds; the lamp on your lips, helpful and strengthening words. We must not only shine in the sight of men by our deeds and words: we need to shine through prayer in the sight of the angles and before God in sincerity of heart. We light in the sight of the angels the lamp of pure devotion when we sing with diligence and pray with fervour. Our lamp that burns before God is our singleness of heart in pleasing him alone whose approval we have won.
So that you may light all these lamps for yourselves, my brothers, come to the source of light and be enlightened. Draw close to Jesus … (From the First Sermon for the Purification, in The Cistercian World, ed. and trans. P. Matarasso, pp. 133-135)
Please read my last post, “Sarum Again” for context.
Adorn thy bridal chamber, O Sion, and receive Christ the King: embrace Mary, who is the gate of heaven, who herself truly brings the glorious King of new light. She remains a virgin, though bearing in her hands a Son begotten before the daystar, whom Simeon, taking Him in his arms, proclaimed to be the Lord of life and death, and Saviour of the world.
I have posted previously on the Use of Sarum here and have a translation of Sarum Vespers available here. The Use of Sarum was the most popular liturgy in the British Isles at the time of the Reformation and is the foundation for the Book of Common Prayer and other traditional English liturgy.
Last night, the Classic Christian small group went on a field trip to St. Thomas’ Anglican Church on Huron St. There we worshipped as our ancestors would have worshipped 500 years ago. We worshipped in Latin*, using England’s most popular pre-Reformation liturgy. This event was more than a re-enactment of a deceased/little-used ritual. It was more than a performance for our benefit. It was, indeed, worship — “To pay homage to or, literally, to ascribe worth to some person or thing. Hence, worship embraces the whole of the reverent life, including piety and liturgy.” (Eerdmans Bible Dictionary)
The occasion for our worshipping in this archaic yet beautiful manner was Candlemas, aka The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, aka The Presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Temple, aka the Occursus Domini (Simeon’s encounter with the Lord Christ). It’s called Candlemas because before the Mass there is a procession with lighted candles through the church — both the processing and the congregation hold said candles in hand.
Before the procession, there were some prayers in Latin sung in plainsong by the priest (the congregation had, here and elsewhere, the role of singing, “Et cum spiritu tuo.”), and then they processed — clergy in fancy robes, three crucifers walking abreast with quite a tall cross in the centre, a banner-carrier (Andrew from the small group, in fact), a choir (which included four “Rulers” in white copes), various other people. Two large tapers were borne before them all. The choir sang beautifully in Latin throughout, concluding with “Videte Miraculum” by Thomas Tallis as they stood at the back of the church.
During this procession, the incense was abundant. I have said on other occasions, “The air was thick with incense.” This time it was very true, up to the ceiling, with a haze of smoke between us and the holy table. When the censer was near our pew, I even had trouble breathing. Smokey Tom’s, indeed!
Following the procession was a form of the Sarum Ordinary of the Mass. It was an interesting experience. The choir sang beautifully in Latin, singing a psalm and the Kyrie while the priest prayed the Preparation and Confession quietly at the holy table. This was the general practice throughout, in fact. We heard the Collect of the Day, the lessons, the Gospel, the Creed, the homily (of course), the offertory sentence, the preface, and a few other prayers, but the bulk of the actual Eucharistic liturgy was said silently by the priest, including the Words of Institution.
While the priest prayed quietly, the choir sang beautiful things, mostly by Thomas Tallis, and all focussed on the feast of the day. It was very beautiful, the sort of singing that raises the spirit up to God. I spent some of the time while the choir prayed praying quietly, some just listening, sometimes thinking, sometimes reading the prayers of the priest. When the choir sang the Creed, I joined because a loud man behind me also did.
Liturgy, however, is not just the words. This was evident in the engagement of all my senses in the worship last night. The incense and the thrice-snuffed candle in my hand drew my sense of smell into the worship. The vestments, the banner, the statues, the crosses, the light from the candles at the front drew my eyes into the act of worship. The sound of beautiful, heavenly singing engaged my ears. At the Eucharist, I felt the Body of Our Lord on my hand, on my tongue. I tasted the bread and the wine.
We also stood, bowed, sat, and knelt. Apparently, kneeling is not part of the Use of Sarum, but old habits die hard, and after the choir had sung the Sanctus, we all hit our knees. The leaflet told us when to bow; most of the rest of the time we stood, though we sat for the homily and part of the Canon of the Mass. When the time came for us to partake of Holy Communion, we walked to the front of the church to the holy table, and knelt at the railing. This, too, is a liturgical act, a reenacting of our choice to stand and walk to Christ every day of our lives. So we stand and approach his Table and feast on the Marriage Banquet of the Lamb.
Thus, although we of the congregation did not pray aloud as much as I prefer, I worshipped the Lord last night. I read the prayers in my heart as the choir sang, I prayed the Jesus Prayer several times, I praised Him for his beauty and the majesty set forth before us. The rarity of such beautiful, majestic worship is one of the tragedies of the Reformation (and Vatican II). I’m not sure I could worship according to Sarum Use every Sunday, but I would not be opposed to worshipping in such an ornate, florid, beauteous manner on occasion.
*If an English translation is provided, does it still contravene the Articles of Religion?