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Of candles and ashes; of love and lovers

/ 04:02 AM February 08, 2021

Can we meaningfully break awhile from the noise of everyday-political-blame-game; from the debilitating scare of a long-raging pandemic and/or vaccine frenzy? And perhaps relish a moment of inner peace? Or maybe, with conscious awareness of February’s reverential highlights following, get spiritually recharged just as we inch forward to Lent’s “greatest love story ever told”?

Christian believers may yet view February as a balmy “transition-month from the joyful feast of Christmas to the penitential fasting of Lent.” It opens with the celebration of “Candlemas Day,” principally commemorating “Our Lord’s Presentation at the Temple” held every 2nd day of February, or 40 days from Christmas Day. Known to be one of the oldest festivals, its earliest reference dates back to A.D. 400 in Jerusalem.

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Three-in-one event

Candlemas brings to mind an ostensibly three-in-one event: [1] the presentation of the baby Jesus to God in the Temple at Jerusalem. [The Lord said to Moses, “Dedicate all the first-born males to me, for every first-born male … belongs to me.” (Exodus 13:2)]; [2] the Virgin Mary’s purification. [A tradition that women weren’t allowed to worship in the temple for 40 days after the birth of a boy, and 60 days for a girl. Thereafter, women were brought to the Temple for the purification ceremony, after which, they may attend religious services again. (Leviticus 12:1-4)]; and [3] Jesus’ first appearance in the temple … the Messiah revealed! [Simeon, a just and pious man, identified the Messiah while in the Temple, thus: “…a Light to reveal your WILL to the Gentiles, and bring glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32)].

The name Candlemas was derived from the traditional holding of festivities with lighted candles [adopted mid-5th century; instituted in the Western Church during Pope Sergius-I pontificate (687–701AD)]. The day when also all the Church’s candles for the year are blessed.

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The deeper significance of “lighted candles” is its celebrative connotation to the Presentation at the Temple, which Simeon prophesied as “…the Light to reveal your Will to the Gentiles” i.e., to all nations in darkness! A fitting reference to God, the Omnipresent, the source of life and enlightenment. For “…Light illumines all that comes within its sphere, moves with incredible speed and nourishes life!”

And since the “Temple event” highlights the perfect model of a Christian family, February passes on as devotional “Month of the Holy Family”—a dedication that advocates the spirit of a virtuous, domestic life against today’s challenges assailing family unity and sanctity of human life.

‘Day of Ashes’

Notably, Feb. 17 this year marks the first day of Lent … so-called Day of Ashes, or Ash Wednesday, which is always 40 days [not counting Sundays] before Easter. It is observed with ashes produced by burning palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday. The parishioners receive the ashes, cross-marked on their forehead as reminder of mortality, with the priest saying, “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return!”

Ironically, as if a graphic magnification of that mortality, the COVID-19’s aftermath of multiple cremations portrays a sobering scene of life’s evanescence. Not just a day but months of mournful crematory promptings that “such is how the glory of the world passes away”; how shortsighted to be so obsessed in storing earthly riches “that moths and rust destroy and, robbers break in and steal” [Matthew 6:19-21], while missing out on the soul’s all-important priorities!

Thus, we approach Ash Wednesday’s rites “…sorry for our transgressions, wanting to use the penitential Lent season to correct our faults, cleanse our hearts, control our desires and grow in holiness so we will be ready to celebrate Easter with great joy.” (TheCatholic Spirit.com).

Penitential season

A period of penitential preparation, Lent is observed with fasting and reflections [in imitation of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness where Satan thrice tempted Him], for the ultimate celebration of the joyous message of Easter and Christ’s victory over sin and death.

“In the early centuries, Lent’s fasting rules were strict as they still are in Eastern churches,” notes Encyclopedia Britannica. “One meal a day was allowed in the evening…” In the West, “fasting rules have gradually been relaxed. The strict law of fasting among Roman Catholics was dispensed with during the Second World War. Only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are now kept as Lenten fast days.”

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The “Day of Ashes” is seemingly a solemn community experience, quite similar to taking Holy Communion. But probably because of urban population growth and time constraints in a fast-paced world, it may be noticed in some instances, conveniently administered like an “Ashes to Go” experience! And given today’s prevailing health protocol … modifications for the better may yet occur. But what matters is our inner self being in fervent communion!

‘Day of Hearts’

Like an enchanting interlude between “Candlemas Day” that concludes Yuletide [per Eastern European believers], and the “Day of Ashes” that ushers in Lent, comes the romantic “Day of Hearts” ironically in observance of St. Valentine’s Feb. 14 martyrdom. Seemingly a passage from the joyful glow of Candlemas to Ash Wednesday’s reflections on life and mortality.

St. Valentine is a clergyman and physician, “imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers to spare them from the war effort,” and for ministering to persecuted Christians; beheaded Feb. 14, A.D. 269 during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus.

According to legend, St. Valentine restored the sight to the blind daughter of his jailer, and wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell before his execution. Thus, began Valentine greetings!

But how did romantic love splash into the Valentine festival? It is said, the Feb. 14 feast of St. Valentine, intercrossed with the “Lupercalia” festival [a pagan festival of love and fertility]. To end the mix-up with Lupercalia, Pope Gelasius I declared in A.D. 496 that Feb. 14 be celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day. (Encyclopaedia Britannica.) Thereupon, the interblend developed into a lovers’ festival or “Day of Hearts.”

Amor Vincit Omnia

“Recognized as a significant cultural, religious and commercial celebration of romance and romantic love in many countries around the world,” its observance is characterized by exchanges of tokens of affection—sending greeting cards, presenting flowers, exchanging love messages and other keepsakes that show and preserve how relationships have grown through the years.

In contemporary popular culture, Valentine’s Day acquired an icon in “Cupid”—the Roman God of Love, Attraction and Affection—depicted as a “winged boy, drawing his bow signifying the power of love. Winged because lovers are allegedly likely to flit about; and boyish because Love is viewed as irrational.”

Cupid [son of Venus and Mars whose love affair represented an allegory of Love and War] is at times painted with arrow and torch because, it is said, “love hurts and it fires up the heart.” Rightly or wrongly, Cupid is thought by some as the adversary of chastity. But notwithstanding his “matchmaking mischief,” he is fondly viewed by mythographers as beneficent because of the happiness he bestows on lovers … soulfully objectified in Virgil’s literary line: “Omnia Vincit Amor.”

And there goes February, dear readers, with its significant liturgical influences affective of life’s travails in the strategy of salvation … enlivened nonetheless by the glowing flame of Valentine, making it specially the “Love Month” that it is—streaming sunshine thru the blues! INQ

This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP. The author is management and development finance consultant; former senior executive of Land Bank of the Philippines; past president and advisory council member of the Government Association of CPAs; and past director of PICPA.

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