Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A light unto the nations

Today is Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which commemorates how the infant Jesus was dedicated by his parents in the Temple at Jerusalem forty days after his birth, in accordance with Jewish law. Luke's account of this event (Luke 2:22-40) tells us that in the temple, Jesus was blessed by Simeon in the presence of the prophetess Anna. Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the Messiah and upon seeing Jesus, he began to chant aloud a hymn that we now pray as part of Night Prayer (Compline). It is called the Nunc Dimittis:
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace,
your word has been fulfilled:
My own eyes have seen the salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.
Jesus is the "light" to reveal God to the nations. So it is a tradition that candles are blessed during or after the Mass on this day. It's a great and fitting tradition, a powerful reminder that Jesus is the "Light of the world."

Groundhog Day: More Catholic Than You Realize

In the United States, on our secular calendar, today is also known as Groundhog Day. For those who are wondering, "Punxsutawney Phil" did predict an early spring earlier today. But what most people don't realize is that the tradition of predicting a continuing winter or an early spring on this day actually dates back to customs surrounding the Catholic holiday of Candlemas. In centuries past, many European farmers believed that the weather of the remaining days of winter would be the opposite of the weather on Candlemas. In other words, if the weather was cold on Candlemas, they would predict the rest of winter to be warm and mild. This tradition continued in Protestant parts of Europe after the Reformation and, somehow, became connected to badgers. The tradition of a weather-forecasting animal was brought to Pennsylvania by German immigrants (the so-called "Pennsylvania Dutch") in the 18th and 19th centuries and, eventually, became embodied in the tradition of "Groundhog Day."

So, while Americans are prognosticating the weather patterns for coming weeks today, you can laugh to yourself that they're carrying on an old Catholic tradition. In any event, have a happy and holy Candlemas!