Vespers for Candlemas
Antiphon Isaiah 60:1
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Forty days have passed since we rejoiced in the feast of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ to his holy mother Mary, and his earthly father Joseph.
Today we recall how they presented him in the Temple in Jerusalem, fulfilling the law of Moses, and showing him to those who had long expected him.
Filled with the Spirit, Simeon and Anna came to the temple, recognized Christ as their Lord, and proclaimed him with joy.
United by the Spirit, let us welcome Christ the Lord into our own homes with this candlelight,
Seeing him in the breaking of the bread, and in each other’s faces, while we await his coming in glory.
God our Father, source of all light, today you revealed to your faithful servants the Light of revelation to the nations.
Bless these candles; make them holy. May we carry them unto your glory and walk in goodness unto that Light that shines forever, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Music: Nunc Dimittis
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, * according to thy word;
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, * which thou preparest for all thy people,
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, * and the glory of thy people Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, * and to the Holy Ghost:
As it was in the beginning, is now, * and will be forever. Amen.
Old Testament Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
1 Behold, I will send my messenger, who shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, in whom ye delight: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.
2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:
3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
4 Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Music: Recitative: “Thus saith the Lord”; Aria: “But Who Can Abide?”; Chorus: “And he shall purify”, from G. F. Handel, Messiah: pt.1: https://youtu.be/VDJM7GujViY
Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22-40
2:22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
2:23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be holy unto the Lord”),
2:24 and they offered a sacrifice according to the law, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.
2:26 It had been revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Messiah.
2:27 Guided by the Spirit, he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,
2:28 Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
2:29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
2:30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
2:31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
2:32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
2:33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.
2:34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed
2:35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
2:37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.
2:38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
2:39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
2:40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Poem: T.S. Eliot, “A Song for Simeon”
Read by the author: https://youtu.be/j27Uzc-7mqE
Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.
Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have taken and given honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house,
where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.
Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.
According to thy word,
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.
This is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Almighty and ever-living God, clothed in majesty, whose beloved Son was presented this day in the Temple, in substance of our flesh: grant that we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts, by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
O God our Savior, when your kindness and generosity dawned upon the world, you saved us in your mercy through the waters of rebirth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit: grant that all who are brought unto you, justified by your grace, may in hope become heirs to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, creator of the changes of day and night, giving rest to the weary, renewing the strength of those who are spent, bestowing upon us occasions of song in the evening. As you have protected us in the day that is past, so be with us in the coming night; keep us from every sin, every evil, and every fear; for you are our light and salvation, and the strength of our life. To you be glory for endless ages. Amen.
About This Service
Candlemas / Presentation is the feast that celebrates the first of the showings of God in Christ to the people after the Incarnation and the Adoration of the Magi. These were quite special people to whom God showed up, to use the definition of Epiphany: Simeon (or Shimon) and Anna (or Hannah), an elderly man and woman who spent much of their time near the Temple in Jerusalem. Anna, who shares her name with the mother of the prophet Samuel, was also a prophet. Unlike the 1st Hannah, she lost her husband early and, as far as we know, had no children. All the children of Jerusalem became her special care, and she longed for their salvation.
Simeon, too, prayed for that salvation, and God granted him the gift of being able to live until he had seen it, if only in the miniature form of the baby who would grow up and make it happen. Simeon knew, and said, what this would mean: that many would fall as well as rise in Israel as a result of Christ coming among them, and that, as he said to Mary, “a sword shall pierce your heart also,” or, as it says in the translation read today, “a sword will pierce own soul, too.” T.S. Eliot’s meditative poem, set in Simeon’s voice, gives us deep insight into all that that observation would come to mean, and not just for Simeon and Mary.
Not for that reason, but also not-not for that reason, is this day also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin. Childbirth was a time of great danger for any mother, even if the child is the Son of God. The ancients feared that danger, and the death it could bring. So do we, if we’re honest about it, and with good reason. One of the most heart-wrenching tragedies comes when one loses either a mother or a child dies in childbirth. What should be the celebration of new life becomes instead a time of grief and mourning for lives lost. The rites of purification meant to celebrate the passing of that danger and the receding of death, and to welcome her who had endured it back among those who could rest in peace beneath their own vine and fig tree.
All of these things – the coming of the savior and light of the world, the sword that shall pierce thy heart also, and the risk of death that comes with the promise of birth – come together in this ritual, set for one of the coldest and darkest nights of the year: February 2nd. Whatever Midwinter Spring we had in January has passed, bringing in its wake the bleak of midwinter itself. The Celtic festival of Imbolc is held on this day and the day preceding, as it was of old, to celebrate in midwinter the return of spring, which we know is coming because the days lengthen, bringing with them more light.
The candles lit and blessed at Candlemas celebrate that light and bear witness to it. Their flames are bright, but not too bright. Their heat is strong, but not too strong. They will last for one night, maybe two, maybe more, but not forever. They are precious for all these reasons, reminding us a little of the Lord’s refining fire, and a little of the sun that shines on all our days. Medieval churches and abbeys blessed on this day their candles for the year, having spend the first part of winter making them from such beeswax or tallow as they had, mindful that it would not be easy to get more, not with the air so chill and the ground so hard with ice.
They had what they had. The year that had ended was truly gone, and the time of growth and bloom was still a fair while away. What would be, would be. It was enough to light a candle against the darkness and breathe deep the cold air, warming it as they did so, hoping and praying that that would be enough, once more.
Resources (available for free online)
- Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org
- Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf
- Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (Church Publishing, 2010).
- Hymnal 1982: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/EH1982
- Hymnal 1940: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/HPEC1940
- The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org
- Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalnewsservice.org
- The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org
- St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org
A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion
Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and fever. Amen.
 The music and the poetry reading for this service are available via YouTube links placed throughout the service. Please stop the service video and click the links on the service bulletin to open these videos.