O Blessed Mother of God, who went up to the Temple according to the law with your
offering of little white doves, pray for me that I too may keep the law and be pure in heart
Sweet heart of Mary, be my salvation.
--from the Novena for Purification
I have a confession to make--we have never celebrated Candlemas in our house. Candlemas, for me, is a pleasant sounding holiday with a name that makes me think of medieval times, kind of like Michaelmas and Martinmas, two other celebrations we only discovered recently.
This year a series of events led me to believe that the Holy Spirit might be prompting us to do more for this great feast of the Purification of Our Lady.
First, the Purification Novena scheduled months ago at Loreto Cottage began (prayed especially for the wonderful Theresa)--it was several days before I even realized that The Purification and Candlemas are the same Feast! (So that's what Candlemas is!) Then out of the blue, a local friend emailed a beautiful Candlemas prayer. Another friend announced she would be hosting the Loveliness of Candlemas Fair. (I could not wait to read it, but did not at first even think about participating--after all, we had *no* plan to celebrate the feast at all!) The final straw--a straw from the manger perhaps--came when a dear friend from our local homeschooling group presented me with a bright yellow folder on Friday. Tucked inside were page after page of Candlemas prayers and hymns collected from several of her treasured out of print books--all painstakingly photocopied just for me.
At that point, I knew God was telling me something!
For those of you unfamiliar with Candlemas (myself included up until about a day or so ago), it is the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady and the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. Traditionally called Candlemas because candles are blessed on this day to help us remember the words of holy Simeon who called the babe in his arms, "A light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of your people, Israel." Luke 2: 32.
As we often do with feasts, the girls and I are planning a Tea, along with a special centerpiece and craft. It is admittedly hastily planned, but we never let perfectionism stand in the way of fun!
Candlemas Tea Menu
Sugar Cubes for Our Lady
Milk for St. Joseph
A pair of turtledoves
Holy Simeon's Arms
Anna the Prophetess
Theresa's edible tapers (optional)
Reading: Luke 2: 22-40.
Recipes and Suggestions:
1. Pure Tea
I hope this will not sound too silly, but many boxes of tea are marked "pure tea." It seems to me that this might be pointed out to the children in conjunction with a discussion of the ritual of purification.
2. Sugar Cubes for Our Lady and Milk for St. Joseph
This is an idea borrowed from Our Epiphany Tea, and the explanations fit just as well here. When discussing Our Lady, I would point out that the whiteness of the sugar reminds us of her purity. Out of obedience and humility, she went to the Temple for the ritual of Purification, but she was at all times sinless and spotless from the moment of her conception.
Water is so associated with purity and purification that a pitcher of spring water for the table makes sense for this celebration. We are also planning a holy water centerpiece (below).
4. A pair of turtledoves
There are so many possibilities for this offering--anything from delicate white sandwiches to small meringues, but for this celebration, the children in our family will be preparing a small craft for the table featuring craft store doves in a basket. (I purchased the doves on Saturday, and it has been all I could do to keep the children from playing with them! I found one attached to a handwrought floral fairy's car today!)
5. Holy Simeon's Arms
Holy Simeon held the Christ Child in his arms saying, "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation." Luke 2: 29-30. To remember the loving arms of Simeon, twisted pretzels (first invented in the middle ages to represent arms folded in prayer) will be a readily obtained and simple symbol.
As you are serving them, remind the children that Christ would later preach, "You are the salt of the earth . . . . You are the light of the world." (Mt. 5: 13-14.)
6. Piercing Swords
Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit to declare to Our Lady, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Luke 2: 34-35.
A simple cube of mild cheese, topped with a grape tomato and pierced with a toothpick would provide a good visual for the children. If you have a party store near you, you might even pick up the perfect box ofSword Toothpicks.
7. Anna the Prophetess
Oh, how I love Anna--worshiping in the temple day and night at the age of 84. [This would be my mother if she did not have grandchildren. : )]
Because Anna was a widow, something black might represent her well. I can think of many possibilities, but our family will pick up a box of Mallomars. They are perfect for Anna. The black outer shell shows that she is a widow, but inside you will see the purity and goodness of her devout heart represented in the white center. Note that the marshmallow stands on top of a graham cracker, and remind the children that this good woman never left the floor of the Temple day or night.
(By the way, up until recently, I would have told you I could not stand Mallomars, but I tried one around Christmas, and it was surprisingly good.)
8. Pure Hearts
Have the children dip strawberries in fresh whipped cream to represent Our Lady's pure and innocent heart. If you managed to get sword toothpicks, it would be very effective to skewer each strawberry for added significance.
We have a small fondue pot that rarely gets used. I may let the children dip the strawberries into melted white chocolate kept warm over a candle, just because I like the idea of the candle for Candlemas.
9. Theresa's Edible Tapers
Speaking of fondue pots, 11 year old Theresa made a creative suggestion we will not have time to test in advance. Cut small pieces of shoestring licorice--dip several times in melted white chocolate leaving a bit of licorice exposed as a wick. If it works, you will have tiny and adorable edible dipped tapers.
Here are some photographs of our Candlemas supplies:
On Friday morning, we will attend Mass at our parish, asking the priest to bless these floating white rose candles. The white rose seemed the perfect symbol of the Purification of Our Lady, and I plan to give the centerpiece added meaning by floating the candles in holy water, allowing the children to bless themselves (before the candles are lit, of course!)
A print of the Presentation will grace the table as well, along with a children's project--doves in a basket. We only have six doves, so, just as Mary and Joseph shared a pair of turtledoves, each pair of my children will share a pair as well.
I never did post pictures of my glorious Advent log in its fully lighted beauty. (Thank you, Rebecca!!!) Fortunately, I am a procrastinator, and the log is still on our living room mantle. I plan on replacing the red Christmas candle with a large fat white one, decorated with Marian symbols to become a Mary Candle. We will light the white side candles and sing Candlemas hymns, processing out afterward to bid a last farewell to our outdoor creche. It will be a fitting end to the official Christmas season, and for once I am glad we never got around to putting some things away!
And a word about treading water. As you know, the learning room of our cottage is soaked through. Yesterday, a workman brought me over to survey the cleanup effort, and I was shocked to see the room stripped down to the studs. The walls and ceiling were ripped out, and even part of the adjacent bathroom wall was no more. The place looked worse, if anything, so much worse than when it was merely wet with a ceiling piece hanging down. Still, I knew it had to be done if the room is to get better.
Then it occurred to me that the stripped room was a perfect metaphor for purification--in many ways, to improve our hearts and become true followers of Christ, we need to strip them down to the studs, lopping away all that is festering within us and holding us back from Him. Even Our Lady, pure and sinless though she was, was pruned and groomed in the school of suffering--told on the very day of Purification of a sword that would pierce her heart.
And so, Candlemas has come to call this year, in more ways than one.