Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Feast of the Purification of the BVM is a Double of the Second Class. The feast is generally known in English-speaking countries as Candlemass as before Mass candles for use throughout the year ahead are solemnly blessed. (When the feast falls on Septuagesima or one of other 'Gesima' Sundays the blessing of candles takes place on the Sunday but the feast is transferred to the following Monday.) The liturgical colour of the day is white but violet is used for the blessing of candles and procession. Some interesting notes about the penitential origins of the procession of candles can be found on the New Liturgical Movement including a reference to the Bishop of Rome wearing black for the event. In the Byzantine East the feast is known as the Hypapante, the Meeting of the Lord, and was often so name in early Western liturgical books (e.g. several examples can be found in the comparison of Calendars given in 'Saints in English Calendars before 1100', Henry Bradshaw Society, Vol.CXVII). In the diverse Medieval uses an even more elaborate blessing than the form found in the Roman Missal outlined below can be seen with a preface of blessing e.g. Sarum, which compares with the blessing of Palms and Waters.

Candlemass Day was the traditional day for taking down the Christmas decorations in England and other northern lands. It appears that the greenery used for Christmas was exchanged for other evergreen branches, notably box. A poem by the seventeenth century Robert Herrick runs:

Down with rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly, now upraise
The greener box, for show.
The holly hitherto did sway,
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter Day
Or Easter's eve appear.

At Vespers yesterday the antiphons used on the feast of the Circumcision were heard again, O admirabile commercium etc with the psalms of feasts for the Blessed Virgin (Pss. 109, 112, 121, 126 & 147). The chapter is proper to the feast and the Office hymn Ave, maris stella. The antiphon on the Magnificat is proper to the feast Senex Puerum portabat etc. A commemoration of the preceding feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch was sung. At Compline the tone of Te lucis was that for feast of the Virgin with the Doxology in honour of the Incarnation Jesu, tibi sit gloria etc.

At Mattins the invitatory is proper, Ecce venit as templum sanctum suum Dominator Dominus: Gaude et laetare, Sion occurrens Deo tuo. The antiphons and psalms for each nocturn come from the Common of the Blessed Virgin as does the Office hymn Quem terra, pontus, sidera. In the first nocturn the lessons are from the Book of Exodus and from Leviticus. The responsories are proper to feast and particularly beautiful. In the second nocturn the lessons come from a sermon of St. Augustine and in the third nocturn the homily if from St. Ambrose. At Lauds the antiphons are proper to the feast, Simeon justus etc., and are sung with the Sunday psalms. The antiphon on the Benedictus is again proper to the feast, Cum inducerent etc.

At the Hours the hymns have the melody of the BVM and the Doxology Jesu tibi sit gloria etc. The antiphons from Lauds, Simeon justus etc., are sung with the festal psalms. At Prime the psalms are Pss. 53, 118i & 118ii, in the short responsory the versicle Qui natus es de Virgine is sung and the lectio brevis is proper to the feast, Et placebit.

After Terce the blessing of candles takes place. The celebrant vests in a violet cope and the ministers in violet folded chausubles. The altar is vested in white but a violet antependium placed over the festal one etc. The organ is silent (as is always the case when folded chausubles are used.)

(Celebrant and ministers in planetis plicatis at St. Clement's Church, Philadelphia)

At the Epistle corner the celebrant sings five prayers of blessing in the ferial tone. Incense is then blessed, lustral water sprinkled over the candles whilst the celebrant says Asperges me and then the candles are censed. At the centre of the altar the celebrant receives a candle from the senior canon present, kissing the candle before taking it. In no canon or senior cleric is present the celebrant kneels before the altar and takes his own candle. Candles are then distributed while the antiphon Lumen ad revelationem is sung interpolated into the canticle Nunc dimittis. Those receiving the candles kiss them, first, then the celebrant's hand. At the conclusion of the distribution the antiphon Exsurge, Domine is sung with a Doxology and the candles lighted. After the distribution the celebrant returns with the ministers to the Epistle corner and chants Oremus. If the feast falls after Septuagesima, which this year of course it does not, the deacon sings Flectamus genua and the sub-deacon Levate. The celebrant then sings the collect Exaudi. The procession then takes place. The subdeacon of the Mass takes the processional cross. The procession goes around the church with lighted candles during the singing of three antiphons Adorna thalamum, Responsum accepit Simeon and Obtulerunt. These text are clearly ancient and found, almost verbatim, in the Menaion of the Byzantine rite.

After the Procession the ministers change from violet vestments to white and Mass is celebrated. The Gloria is sung. The Gradual Suscepimus and Alleluia are sung as we are not in Septuagesima (in Septuagesima these are replaced by the tract Nunc dimittis). The Creed is sung and the preface is that of the Nativity, the feast being a 'satellite' of Christmas. Lighted candles are held by all during the chanting of the Gospel, including the celebrant, and from the beginning of the Canon until after the distribution of Communion.

At second Vespers the antiphons Simeon justus etc and chapter from Lauds are used again with the psalms of the Blessed Virgin, the antiphon on the Magnificat is proper. From Compline the Marian antiphon changes from Alma, Redemptoris to Ave, Regina caelorum etc.

In the 'liturgical books of 1962' the feast loses first Vespers (unless it falls on a Sunday or is celebrated as a I class local feast). Yesterday Vespers were of St. Ignatius without any commemoration of the Purification. Mattins and Lauds are the same as the Old Rite. At the Little Hours the ferial antiphons and psalter are used although the versicle Qui natus is sung in the short responsory at Prime. The lectio brevis is of the season, not of the feast. The Doxology in honour of the BVM is omitted at all the hymns of the Little Hours which are sung to a different tone.

At the blessing of candles white vestments are used rather than violet. The five collects of blessing have the usual 'long conclusion' omitted and in its place the 'short conclusion' - e.g. Per eundem Dominum nostrum. Amen. The verse Exsurge, Domine is omitted, the command of Flectamus genua is always omitted even in Septuagesima and at Mass Judica me Deus etc is excised as on several other days in the 1962 missal. Bows to the cross, the mid-voice etc also disappear as other reforms in the 1962 Ordo Missae.

Icon: The Hypapante from the interesting website of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Laguna, Philippines.


Henry said...

But why black?

Andy said...

Hello Rubricarius,

Is the beginning of the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, displaced from Saturday due to the Feast of St. Agatha, recited tomorrow (Friday)? If not, when is it read?

God bless,

Andy Hoxie

Rubricarius said...


Yes - it is in the Ordo, the Incipit is read tomorrow (Friday, 4th).


One of two reasons or probably a mixture of both: a) black was an ancient penitential colour, and b) black was used in some places for feast of the BVM and on some other days. Black, violet and blue share the same origins - perhaps one of the best sources (with a focus on English usuage) on the subject is Atchley, E. G. Cuthbert F., 'On English Liturgical Colours' in 'Essays on Ceremonial', De La More Press, London, 1904, pp. 87 - 176.

André said...

Why are the candles kept lit until the end of the distribution of Holy Communion and not after the consummation of the Precious Blood by the Priest?

Rubricarius said...


Out of reverence for the Lord in the Sacrament. The lit candles are held in honour of meeting Him in the Gospel and in the central part of the Eucharist.

BTW, may I ask does your surname begin with 'L' perchance?

André said...

No my surname doesn't begin with "L"