Candlemas, in the Roman Church, the feast of the purification of the Virgin Mary, held on the 2d of February, the fortieth after Christmas, and therefore celebrated as that on which the purification of the Virgin took place (Lu 2:22). The Greek Church called it ὑπαπαντή, festum o(cursus, the feast of the meeting (see Lu 2:25); alsofestumpresentationis Simeonis et Annce ;festum Simeonis; the feast of the presentation of Simeon and Anna, or simply of Simeon. The name festum candelarum or luminum, the feast of lights (or Candlemas), came into use at a later period, after the introduction of candles into the service of the processions in honor of the Virgin. On this day the Romanists consecrate all the candles and tapers which they use in their churches during the whole year. At Rome the pope performs that ceremony himself, and distributes wax candles to the cardinals and others, who carry them in procession through the great hall of the pope's palace. Luther retained the festival as "a festival of our Lord Jesus Christ, who on this day manifested himself when he was borne into the Temple at Jerusalem and presented to the Lord." In many Lutheran churches it is still celebrated. In the Church of England the festival was abandoned in the second year of Edward VI.
The ceremonies observed on this festival are probably derived from the Februan or purificatory rites of paganism, which occurred on the same day, and which are briefly described by Ovid (Fast. 2). Pope Sergius (A.D. 641) has the credit of transferring this "false maumetry and untrue belief," as it is styled by Becon, in his Reliques of Rome, to "God's worship." This pontiff hallowed the feast "thorowe all Christendome; and every Christian man and woman of covenable age is bound to come to church and offer up their candles, as though they were bodily with our Ladye; hoping for this reverence and worship that they do to our Ladve to have a great reward in heaven." The following explanation is given by Pope Innocent III: "Why do we carry lighted candles at this festival? The answer may be derived from the book of Wisdom, where it is said (ch. 14:23) that the heathen offered sacrifices at night (sacrifici' obscure). The Gentiles, indeed, had devoted the month of February to the infernal deities, because, as they ignorantly believed, it was at the beginning of this month that Pluto had ravished Proserpine. Ceres, her mother, had, according to their belief, sought her through Sicily for a whole night by the light of torches kindled at the flames of AEtna. In commemoration of this, they every year, at the beginning of February, traveled the city during the night bearing lighted torches, whence this festival was called amburbale. But the holy fathers, being unable to abolish this custom, decided that lighted candles should be carried in honor of the blessed Virgin Mary; and thus what was formerly done for Ceres is done to-day in honor of the Virgin, and what was done formerly for Proserpine is now done in the praise of Mary" (Innocent III, Opera, "Serm. I. in fest. purif. Marite," fol. 47, col. 2, ed. Coloniae, 1552).
The following are the prayers for the hallowing of candles upon Candlemas-day, copied from "The Doctrine of the Mass-book," 1554. The asterisks indicate crossings: "O Lord Jesus Christ, * bless thou this creature of a waxen taper at our humble supplication, and by the virtue of the holy cross pour thou into it an heavenly benediction; that as thou hast granted it unto man's use for the expelling of darkness, it may receive such a strength and blessing, through the token of thy holy cross, that in what places soever it be lighted or set, the Devil may avoid out of those habitations, and tremble for fear, and fly away discouraged, and presume no more to unquiet them that serve thee, who with God," etc. Then follow other prayers, in one of which occur these passages: "We humbly beseech thes that thou wilt vouchsafe to * bless and sanctify these candles prepared unto the uses of men, and health of bodies and souls, as well on the land as the waters." "Vouchsafe * to bless and * sanctify, and with the candle of heavenly benediction to lighten these tapers; which we thy servants taking in the honor of thy name (when they are lighted), desire to bear," etc. "Here' let the candles be sprinkled with holy water." The service concludes with this Rubric: "When the hallowing of the candle is done, let the candles be lighted and distributed." "The festival of St. Agatha, which commences on Candlemas-day in Sicily, strongly resembles the Februan rites. Lighted tapers form a distinguishing part of the ceremonial; and the memory of Proserpine is still cherished, though under another superstition, by kindling a blazing pine torch near the very spot to which the mythological legend assigned the scene of Pluto's amorous force. An account of this festival will be found in Blunt's Vestiges of Ancient Mlanners in Italy." — Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes bk. 20, 100:8, § 4; Augusti, Denkwaurdigkeiten, Thl. 3, p. 79; Siegel, Alterthiimer, 3, p. 326; Eadie, Ecclesiastes Dictionary, s.v.; Chambers, Book of Days, 1:212 sq.; Brand, Popular Antiquities, 1:24 sq.