A reflection from Dom on today’s great solemnity:
It is exceedingly difficult to say what was the origin of this ceremony. Baronius, Thomassin, and others are of the opinion that it was instituted toward the close of the 5th century, by Pope Gelasius, in order to give a Christian meaning to certain vestiges still retained by the Romans of the old Lupercalia. St. Gelasius certainly did abolish the last vestiges 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 honor of Ceres for the month of February. We therefore prefer adopting the opinion of Dom Hugh Menard, Rocca, Henschenius, and Pope Benedict XIV; that an ancient feast that 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 the 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 7th century. According to Ivo of Chartres, the wax, which is formed from the juice of flowers by the bee, always 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. St. 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 top, is His divinity.
Filled with holy joy, radiant with the mystic light, excited, like the venerable Simeon, by the impulse of the Holy Spirit, the Church goes forth to meet her Emmanuel. It is this meeting which the Greek Church calls the Hypapante, under which name she also designates today’s Feast. The Church would imitate that wondrous Procession, which was formed in the Temple of Jerusalem on the day of Mary’s Purification.