Dom Prosper Gueranger:
After Tierce follows the Blessing of the Candles, which is one of the three principal ones observed by thee Church during the year. The other two are the Blessing of the Ashes and the Blessing of the Palms.
The signification of this ceremony bears so essential a connection with the mystery of our Lady’s Purification, that if Septuagesima, Sexagesima or Quiuquagesima Sunday fall on the 2nd of February, the Feast is deferred to tomorrow, but the Blessing of the Candles and the Procession which follows it always take place on this precise day.
In order to give uniformity to the three great Blessings of the year, the Church prescribes for that of the candles the same colour for the vestments of the sacred Ministers as is used in the two other Blessings of the Ashes and Palms — namely, purple. Thus this solemn function, which is inseparable from the day on which our Lady’s Purification took place, may be gone through every year on the 2nd of February, without changing the colour prescribed for the three Sundays just mentioned.
It is exceedingly difficult to say what was the origin of this ceremony. Baronius, Thomassin and others are of opinion that it was instituted towards the close of the 5th century by Pope Saint Gelasius, in order to give a Christian meaning to certain vestiges, still retained by the Romans, of the old Lupercalia. Saint Gelasius certainly did abolish the last vestiges of the feast of the Lupercalia which, in earlier times, the pagans used to celebrate in the month of February. Pope Innocent III in one of his Sermons for the Feast of the Purification attributes the institution of this ceremony of Candlemas to the wisdom of the Roman Pontiffs who turned into the present religious rite the remnants of an ancient pagan custom which had not quite died out among the Christians. The old pagans, he says, used to carry lighted torches in memory of those which the fable gives to Ceres when she went to the top of Mount Etna in search of her daughter Proserpine. But against this, we have to object that on the pagan calendar of the Romans there is no mention of any feast in honour of Ceres for the month of February. We, therefore, prefer adopting the opinion of Dom Hugh Menard, Pocca, Henschenius and Pope Benedict XIV that an ancient feast, which was kept in February and was called the Amburbalia, during which the pagans used to go through the city with lighted torches in their hands, gave occasion to the Sovereign Pontiffs to substitute in its place a Christian ceremony which they attached to the Feast of that sacred mystery in which Jesus, the Light of the world, was presented in the Temple by His Virgin-Mother.
The mystery of today’s ceremony has frequently been explained by liturgists dating from the seventh century. According to Saint Ivo of Chartres, the wax — which is formed from the juice of flowers by the bee (which has always been considered as the emblem of virginity) — signifies the virginal flesh of the Divine Infant who diminished not, either by His conception or His birth, the spotless purity of His Blessed Mother. The same holy Bishop would have us see in the flame of our candle a symbol of Jesus who came to enlighten our darkness. Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking on the same mystery, bids us consider three things in the blessed candle: the wax, the wick and the flame. The wax, he says, which is the production of the virginal bee, is the flesh of our Lord. The wick, which is within, is His soul. The flame which burns on the top, is His Divinity. Formerly, the faithful looked upon it as an honour to be permitted to bring their wax tapers to the Church on this Feast of the Purification that they might be blessed together with those which were to be borne in the procession by the Priests and sacred Ministers. And the same custom is still observed in some congregations. It would be well if Pastors were to encourage this practice, retaining it where it exists, or establishing it where it is not known. There has been such a systematic effort made to destroy or, at least, to impoverish the exterior rites and practices of religion that we find, throughout the world, thousands of Christians who have been insensibly made strangers to those admirable sentiments of faith which the Church alone, in her Liturgy, can give to the body of the faithful.
Thus, we shall be telling many what they have never heard before, when we inform them that the Church blesses the candles today, not only to be carried in the procession which forms part of the ceremony, but also for the use of the faithful, inasmuch as they draw upon such as use them with respect, whether on sea or on land, (as the Church says in the Prayer) special blessings from Heaven. These blessed candles ought, also, to be lit near the bed of the dying Christian as a symbol of the immortality merited for us by Christ, and of the protection of our Blessed Lady.Also on this day according to the ROMAN MARTYROLOGY:
At Rome, on the Via Salaria, the passion of St. Apronian, a notary. While he was yet a Gentile and was leading St. Sisinius out of prison to present him before the governor Laodicius, he heard a voice from heaven saying, “Come you, the blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” At once he believed, was baptised and, after confessing our Lord, received the sentence of death.
Also at Rome, the holy martyrs Fortunatus, Felician, Firmus and Candidus.
At Caesarea in Palestine, St. Cornelius, a centurion, whom the blessed Apostle St. Peter baptised and raised to the episcopal dignity in that city.
At Orleans, the holy bishop Flosculus.
At Canterbury in England, the birthday of St. Lawrence, bishop, who succeeded St. Augustine in the government of that church and converted the king himself to the faith.
And in other places, many other holy martyrs, confessors and virgins.
Thanks be to God.