History of Candlemass
The celebration of Candlemass originated in the late fifth century as a tribute to the light of God's glory that was manifested in Christ Jesus. The earliest known observance within the Church was in the year AD 496, during the time of Pope Gelasius. In AD 542 the Emperor Justinian ordained that the Eastern Church celebrate the festival, which he called Hypapante, or "Meeting". The name was derived from the Gospel of Luke 2:22-40, wherein Simeon the priest and Anna the prophetess met the infant Jesus in the temple at the time of his consecration. Simeon's prophecy declared Jesus to be the Lord's salvation and "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." This passage continues to be the focus of the celebration.
During Candelaria, candles are blessed, lit, and borne in a procession in celebration to Jesus being the light of the world. In AD 638, Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, proclaimed the importance of the celebration in his sermon to the church, stating: "Our bright shining candles are a sign of divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ." The candles are generally considered to represent the inner light of Christ, which he brought to share with the world.
The timing for Candlemass is also in accordance with the Mosaic Law, which required that a woman should purify herself for forty days after giving birth, and, at the end of her purification, should present herself to the priest at the temple and offer a sacrifice (Leviticus 12:6-7). The Roman Catholic Churches seem to devote greater focus to this aspect of Candlemass, as evidenced by their ritual of the Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin, while the Anglican Churches celebrate the Wives' Feast, which is a time when women gather with feasting and socializing.
Candelaria on February 2nd
The date of February 2nd places the Candelaria celebration forty days after Christmas and continues the religious cycle that leads up to Easter Sunday. Additionally, it is also the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, which is the basis for various ancient European celebrations that commemorate the annual beginnings of the agricultural season.
Also of note concerning Candlemass is its connection to Groundhog Day, which occurs on the same date. This tradition also finds its origin in European folklore, as a prediction for the coming spring.
For the Church, however, Candelaria remains a day of hope and light. It is a time to honor the Lord as the Light of the World and to remind us that we too have that light within us.