Masses and Memories: Missa Suscepimus Deus (Candlemas) 2018

. . . misericordiam tuam in medio temple tui . . .

We ponder, God, your mercy within the temple . . . Today is Candlemas, the Mass of Candles — and also the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Link). We celebrate the day when Our Lady brought Our Lord to the Temple, and St. Simeon recognized Him. Today is also the last day of the Christmas season. We hear the Nativity Preface for the last time in the liturgical year. Everything reminds us that the mysteries of Our Lord’s infancy were not complete until His mother presented Him at the temple.

The Candlemas begins with the blessing of candles and a procession through the church. The first time I ever did this in a Traditional Latin Mass, the priest’s manner made me think we were doing it badly, for the sake of doing it at all. That is, I imagined it was supposed to be a procession outside the church, through the neighborhood, like typical processions — and that those at the morning Candlemas had done it. Those at the evening Candlemas, on the other hand, were doing only a pale shadow of it. Father seemed a little tired that night.

Today I learned that I had been wrong. The procession is supposed to be inside the church! And when it is done well, it isn’t a pale shadow, but a lovely light.

Lumen ad revelantionem gentium . . .

A light for the revelation of the Gentiles . . . This time, we had a choir to sing the Lumen ad revelantionem antiphon (Link) during the distribution and lighting of the candles. It was beautiful — and it transformed the ritual into something bigger than our own actions. We weren’t just going through the motions. We were acting out something meaningful. And it was meaningful not just in countless countries and over hundreds of years, but also in Heaven as much as on earth.

There were a little under 100 people at evening Candlemas. It took a while to give everyone a candle and to light each one. The choir had to sing the verses and the antiphon many times over. Lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuae Israel — A light for the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel. Hearing this over and over again, with a literal lumen in my hand, made me a participant in the mystery. I wasn’t just hearing about Our Lord’s presentation at the Temple, like someone who hadn’t been there. Liturgy was blurring the lines of time and space. It was as if I were actually there.

And when we relit our candles for the Gospel, it was as if I were in St. Simeon’s place, holding the Lumen ad revelantionem gentium in my own hands.

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum, in pace . . .

Every time I have a transcendent experience in the Latin Mass, I think back to the new Mass. Could I have had the same experience in the new rite? Is it only my personal approach to the old rite that is making a difference for me now? I only vaguely remember most Candlemasses from my past, so I can’t be sure. But as I’ve mentioned, my first one in the Traditional rite was also underwhelming.

Yet I remain certain that the decision to hear only the Traditional Latin Mass, at least for now, is the right one. The old Mass is one of the treasures of the Catholic Church — and it’s truly something different from the new one. I just doubt myself whenever I try to explain why.

Did you celebrate Candlemas today?

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