Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologirt.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit id es semper esse puerum.
Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.

VDMA

Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.


Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

For the basics of our faith right here online, or for offline short daily prayer or devotion or study, scroll down to "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar.

22 February 2012

What's A Quadragesima? Lent 2012. A 40 Days Of Purpose.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.
Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.

Pulverise. The root of that English word is the Latin word for dust. It literally means to be turned into dust. Which is exactly what death does. It's going to pulverise me, you, and everyone and everything else.

Howzat for some good news?

And that's not only living stuff, it's everything. Everything decays, everything loses its value over time. Go look at your car. Then look at its service record. Look at what you paid for it and what it's worth now. Or, speaking of paying for stuff, look at the money in your wallet or your bank statement. Both the money itself and the value given it are decaying.

Such is life. Such is even non life. It's even measurable scientifically. That's called a half-life, which is the time it takes something to lose half its original value.

And such are the famous words from the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday, or on Aschermittwoch, as they say in the original language of our beloved synod. We are dust, and unto dust we and everything else will return. Observable fact, and we start right there.

And go where? Is that all there is? So we can resign ourselves to that, without illusion and without asking it to be more? So we go for the gusto we can get while we can go for anything? So we create such meaning as we can in between the inevitable finish to a start for which we did not ask? What meaning or purpose can something that is dust to dust have anyway?

In Lent we begin with the most unflinching fact of our existence, death, and are asked to be quite clear on that -- you will die, and everything and everyone else dies or decays or passes too. Ashes signify that. Ashes are that. Ashes are in your face about that. Ashes are ON your face about that.

And ashes are also something else. Ashes are a sign of repentance. Repentance from what? Is it not God who needs to repent, if there is one, for supposedly creating such an inescapable joke whose only meaning is what we provide it? So you come up with a service where you mark stuff on our faces and read a Gospel passage saying not to go around looking like you're being all religious by marking yourselves?

Hey, it's Lent. This is not going to be pretty. Or very nice either. It gets a little rough. And on Ash Wednesday the two most basic facts of Man come to-gether in a jarring way. One is the fact that you came from nothing and you're going back there. The other is, God doesn't want it that way, didn't set it up that way, and if it's that way now, guess whose doing that is?

From the Introit echoed in the Collect through the prophecy of Joel to the words of Jesus, which are all read at mass on Ash Wednesday, the double message of the ashes is clear: turn to God and you will be delivered, stick to ashes and you will be, well, ashes.

Rick Warren says, whenever God wants to prepare someone for something, he takes forty days. His Forty Days for either churches or individuals has the same basis, two passages from Matthew, the one the Great Commandment in Matthew 22, and the other the Great Commission in Matthew 28. From that he abstracts five principles, or purposes for Man.

Love the Lord with all your heart … (Worship)
Love your neighbour as yourself. (Ministry)
Go and make disciples … (Mission)
Baptising them … (Fellowship)
Teaching them … (Discipleship)

Guess what? The church in its liturgy -- supposedly the dismal domain of those who only care about maintaining the musty museum of such things -- for most of its two millennia existence has been offering a five-point forty days of purpose to prepare for God's answer to Man's problem, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the Christian Passover. The period of preparation for it in both the Eastern and Western Church is a period of forty days in imitation of Christ’s forty days in the desert before he began his way to the cross.

The Eastern church's forty days starts on a Monday called Clean Monday and runs forty consecutive days until Friday of the sixth week, then celebrates Lazarus Saturday as a pointing toward Jesus' Resurrection, then proceeds with Holy Week where his way to the cross is told.

The Western church starts on a Wednesday and does not include Sundays in the count, each Sunday being a "little Easter", and concludes with Holy Saturday, which is also the end of Holy Week.

Same idea, different ways of setting it up.

For the five Sundays in Lent before Holy Week, the Western Church offers the five point plan of preparation. Lent, or Quadragesima, will start with the starkest facts of human existence, right from looking like there is no meaning or purpose to it, in your face, ON your face, then see why that is and what God has done about it, and end actually inviting, welcoming, not fearing, the judgement of God.

At one time in English, Lent itself was called Quadragesima, meaning forty days, the duration of Lent, and it's also the name of the first Sunday in Lent. This still survives in other languages, for example in Spanish the word Cuaresma for Lent. "Lent" in English originally just meant Spring. The word lent derives from a Germanic root meaning long, applied then to Spring as the daylight gets longer, then applied to Quadragesima which happens in Spring.

Here's how it works. The church has a definite pattern it uses to take us through the life of Christ and our life in Christ. It's an annual (not a three year) cycle. It arranges the readings from the book it says you can rely on, the Bible, and a sermon based on these reading in the same pattern every day.

Here's the pattern.

The church begins its liturgy with an introductory verse called the Introit that sets the tone for the day, usually from the Psalms, with a verse response to it. In fact, the Sunday often takes its name from the first word or two of this introductory verse, the Introit. Then, the church has a prayer before the Scripture readings each Sunday that collects the thoughts of the day, called, oddly enough, the Collect. Then, for Scripture readings, the church continues the synagogue practice, replacing the Torah, or Law, readings with Gospel ones, and replacing the related haftorah, usually from the Prophets, readings with ones usually from the Epistles.

Let’s see how that lays out for Ash Wednesday and the Sundays in Lent. (We'll get to Holy Week in later posts.)

Ash Wednesday / Aschermittwoch. 22 February 2012.

Introit. Wisdom 11:24,25,27. Thou has mercy upon all, O Lord, and hatest none of the things which Thou hast made, overlooking the sins of men for the sake of repentance and sparing them, because Thou art the Lord our God. Verse, Psalm 56:2.
Collect. Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that Thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitient, create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.
Epistle. Joel 2:12-19.
Gospel. Matthew 6:16-21.

Invocavit -- He shall call to Me. 26 February 2012.

Introit. Psalm 91:15,16. He shall cry to Me, and I shall hear him; I will deliver him and I will glorify him; I will fill him with length of days. Verse, Psalm 91:1.
Collect. O Lord, mercifully hear our prayer and stretch forth the right hand of the majesty to defend us from them that rise up against us.
Epistle. 2 Cor 6:1-10 Not to receive grace in vain. Now is the acceptable time, now it the day of salvation.
Gospel. Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus' forty days and nights, tempted to be a false Messiah.

Reminiscere – Remember, O Lord. 04 March 2012.

Introit. Psalm 25:6,3,22. Remember, O Lord, Thy compassions, and Thy mercies that are from the beginning of the world, lest at any time our enemies rule over us: deliver us, O God of Israel, from all our tribulations. Verse, Psalm 25:1,2.
Collect. O God, who seest that of ourselves we have no strength, keep us both outwardly and inwardly that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.
Epistle. 1 Thess 4:1-7 Progress in sanctification, holiness.
Gospel. Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus heals the Canaanite woman’s daughter. Great is thy faith, let it be done.

Oculi -- My eyes are ever toward the Lord. 11 March 2012.

Introit. Psalm 25:15-16. My eyes are ever toward the Lord: for He shall pluck my feet out of the snare; look Thou upon me, and have mercy on me, for I am alone and poor. Verse, Psalm 25:1,2.
Collect. We beseech Thee, almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of Thy humble servants and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to be our defence against all our enemies.
Epistle. Eph 5:1-9 Walk, then, as children of light.
Gospel. Luke 11:14-28 Jesus’ lesson after casting out a demon. Blessed are they that hear the Word and keep it.

Laetare – Rejoice, O Jerusalem. 18 March 2012.

Introit. Isaiah 66:10,11. Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come to-gether all you who love her: rejoice with joy, you who have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. Verse, Psalm 122:1.
Collect. Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of Thy grace may mercifully be relieved.
Epistle. Gal 4:22-31 Children of Agar, bondage, slave, Sinai; children of Sarah, promise, free, Jerusalem.
Gospel. John 6:1-15 The loaves and fishes. Passover is near, the bread king.

Judica -- Judge me, O God. 25 March 2012.

Introit. Psalm 43:1,2. Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man: for Thou are my God and my strength. Verse, Psalm 43:3.
Collect. We beseech Thee, almighty God, mercifully to look upon Thy people, that by Thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore in body and soul.
Epistle. Heb 9:11-15 Christ the High Priest, blood of the new covenant blots out sins under the old covenant.
Gospel. John 8:46-59 If anyone keep my word, he will never see death. Before Abraham came to be, I am.

08 February 2012

"Precious Lord". A Love Story, For St Valentine's, 14 Feb 2012.

THE BIRTH OF THE HYMN "PRECIOUS LORD"

Back in 1932, I was a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago's south side. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn't want to go; Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child, but a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis. I kissed Nettie goodbye, clattered downstairs to our Model A and, in a fresh Lake Michigan breeze, chugged out of Chicago on Route 66.

However, outside the city, I discovered that in my anxiety at leaving, I had forgotten my music case. I wheeled around and headed back. I found Nettie sleeping peacefully. I hesitated by her bed; something was strongly telling me to stay. But eager to get on my way, and not wanting to disturb Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped out of the room with my music.

The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. People were happily singing and clapping around me, but I could hardly keep from crying out. I rushed to a phone and called home. All I could hear on the other end was "Nettie is dead. Nettie is dead.'"

When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that same night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn't want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well.

But then, as I hunched alone in that dark apartment those first sad days, I thought back to the afternoon I went to St. Louis. Something kept telling me to stay with Nettie. Was that something God? Oh, if I had paid more attention to Him that day, I would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died. From that moment on I vowed to listen more closely to Him.

But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Frye, who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Madam Malone's Poro College, a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys.

Something happened to me then. I felt at peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I'd never heard or played before, and the words into my head -- they just seemed to fall into place:

'Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn,
Through the storm, through the night, lead me on, to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.'

The Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power. And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.

-Rev Thomas A Dorsey (1 July 1899 - 23 January 1993)
published in Guideposts in 1987
http://www.snopes.com/music/songs/precious.asp

03 February 2012

What's A Septuagesima? Gesimatide 2012.

[I am honoured that Pastor McCain on 1 February posted the 2009 edition on his blog Cyberbrethren again this year. I am even more honoured that he describes me as "my friend".]

The Change From Christmas Season To Easter Season.


There's been some joyous events these last few weeks -- the birth of Jesus, his naming and circumcision, the first Gentiles to find him, and his baptism. On various dates and combinations, from place to place through the ages, the Christian Church has offered its members celebrations of these things in its church year.

But a change is coming, one already present amid the joy. We know as we celebrate his birth that he was born for us so he could die for us. We know as his blood was spilled in circumcision, putting him under the Law, his blood would be spilled on the Cross, to redeem us from under the Law. We saw that the Gentiles who found him had to return by a different way, as the way of all who find him is different afterward. And after his baptism, Jesus will spend forty days in the desert before beginning his public ministry, wherein he will be tempted to make himself into the various false Messiahs into which Man so ofter makes him anyway. We will soon imitate those forty days for our own devotion with the season of Lent, on the way to the Cross, without which Easter is but another metaphor or myth. A change is coming.

So the church provides a transitional time between the first and second of its three great seasons, as the joyous events from preparing for his birth to his baptism, Advent-Christmas-Circumcision-Naming-Manifestation-Baptism, now turn to the literally deadly serious reason why they happened, sin and our redemption from sin. Just like with the Christmas related season, this has taken various forms in various places and times but always within the same general pattern, and the universal practice of the Christian Church since ancient times (well, until 1960s Rome messed with it, but we'll get to that) has been to provide a transition from the beginnings of Jesus' earthly life to the end of it.

The Transition In The West And In The East.

The Western and the Eastern Churches also calculate Easter, and thus the forty days before it, differently, but the overall pattern is the same, as is a transitional period between what leads to Easter and the Christmas season just past. In the Eastern Church this transitional period is framed by five Sundays, after the last of which Great Lent begins on Clean Monday; in the Western Church it is a little over three weeks with Lent starting on Ash Wednesday. Either way, it is there.

Candlemas is the last feast dated with respect to Christmas. The 40 days of purpose, from Jesus' birth to his mother's purification in the mikveh and his presentation in the Temple, end then. Those 40 days are fixed, reckoned forward from Christmas, from 25 December through 2 February. The next 40 days of purpose are not fixed, and are reckoned backward from that to which they lead, Easter, which is not a fixed date either and reckoned differently in the West and in the East. In the West, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, will never be earlier than 4 February, so that always works out even if by just two days after Candlemas.

But, the transitional period, Gesimatide, can overlap with the concluding Epiphany part of the Christmas season. For the West, adding three weeks to forty days is approximately seventy days, and even with the earliest possible Easter will fall no earlier than 18 January, so Gesimatide will still always fit between the end of the Christmas cycle itself on 14 January, after the octave of the Epiphany and the Gospel portion relating the baptism of Jesus is read, and whenever Easter falls, early or late, in any given year.

What The Names Literally Mean.

Septuagesima is simply another word for Seventy Days, that's all. The modern English word is derived from Middle English, in turn from Old French, in turn from the actual Late Latin word septuagesima meaning seventieth day. The septua- part is the same prefix for seven or multiples by ten of seven seen in other English words -- septet, an ensemble of seven; septuagenarian, someone in his 70s; the Septuagint, the translation into Greek of the Hebrew Scriptures by seventy scholars -- and the -gesima part derives from the Latin for days, dies.

Seventieth day from Easter, no more complicated than that!

So, Septuagesima is 70 Days, Sexagesima is 60 Days, Quinqagesima is 50 Days. Simple.

With the Seventieth Day, or Septuagesima, the change is apparent on various levels. The white vestments of Christmastime joy give way to purple or violet of repentance; the joyful exclamation Alleluia and other joyful expressions like the Te Deum and the Gloria (there ain't no This Is The Feast) are not used, and the readings, especially if one follows the hours of prayer, the Divine Office, begin their way through the sorry history of Man, from his creation then fall then going forward, which the Holy Saturday liturgy will recapitulate.

On Septuagesima itself, the Gospel reading is Matthew 20:1-16, the story of the workers in the vineyard, wherein we see Man the same as ever from the start in Eden, trying to impose his ideas of what is right on to God's, this time arguing over whether the same wage is fair for those who worked all day, those hired at the last, and everyone in between, as if we deserved anything from God and it were not his to give and not ours to presume or demand anyway. So we argue with God and each other over the denarius rather than taking it in gratitude from him who owed us nothing! Kind of the whole problem in a nutshell.

The Eastern Church uses the following on its five Sundays in the Pre Lenten Season: 1) the story of Zacchaeus, 2) the Publican and the Pharisee, 3) the Prodigal Son, 4) the Last Judgement, and 5) the Sunday of Forgiveness.

The World Has Its Own Transition Too.

The world, which has ever had its early Spring celebrations, has in many lands timed them on Lent, so pre-Lent attains a nature as opposite from its Christian meaning as the gift buying and partying season before Christmas has become from Advent. At the beginning of Lent, fasting in some form is observed, usually involving abstaining from meat, and the most likely origin of the the name for the worldly pre-Lent, carnival, is a farewell to meat (flesh), from the Latin root carne- for meat or flesh (as in carnivore) and vale, good-bye (as in valedictory). In most but not all places, Septuagesima is the start of carnival season, to end just before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. As the church prepares for the penitential season of Lent the world enjoys the flesh, in all senses of the word.

But now in the Western Church, if one follows the lead of the Great Whore, Rome, as unfortunately many have, the transitional pre-Lenten period has been abolished altogether! And not only is this important transition dropped, the period of time it formerly took is simply counted as Ordinary Time. That would be bad enough if ordinary here meant what ordinary ordinarily means. Ordinary here means the literal meaning of ordinary, which is, something that has no particular name or identity but is simply numbered. So in the novus ordo and the various adaptations of it, this significant time of transition from the Christmas cycle to the Easter cycle simply ceases to exist, in numbered anonymity, in the face of nearly two millennia of Christian observance in varying forms, and the continuing observance of those who do not follow suit. Well, when you're the Whore of Babylon, you do stuff like that, maybe even have to do stuff like that. Not a lead for the church of Christ to follow.

Actually, at first in English the word Lent just meant Spring, and what we now call Lent followed the Gesima pattern and was called Quadragesima, meaning forty days, the duration of Lent in the West, which was also the name of the first Sunday in Lent. This still survives in other languages. For example in Spanish the word for Lent is Cuaresma. No word yet on whether Rome can get languages like Spanish to quit calling Lent after a pattern it has abolished. The world, though, seems securely attached to its traditions; Carnival season endures though Pre-Lent is done in. Who knows? Maybe the next council can get Ash Wednesday moved to the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, for "pastoral reasons" of course, like they jacked around the date of Epiphany, or move it to the Monday after and call it reclaiming our ancient Greek roots.

The Eastern Church still has its Pre Lenten Season.

The Start Of The Church's Transition East And West.

In the Western Church, the earliest Septuagesima can fall is 18 January and the latest 22 February. This year, 2012, it's 5 February. Join the Christian Church, East or West, in this transition, whatever your church or church body may have chosen to do, as we turn to the preparation for Lent, the observance of that for which he whose birth we recently celebrated came to die and then rise again, and the Easter and Pentecost joy to follow in anticipation of the eternal joy of heaven!

We start with learning from the workers in the vineyard not to haggle over the denarius but understand whose it is and that it is a gift, or, from the call of Jesus to Zacchaeus, who collected taxes for the foreign oppressors, that he doesn't have to climb a tree to see him, that he is coming to his very house -- which btw produced more grumbling about what is right and just -- after which Zacchaeus repented and made restitution to his brethren. The Son of Man has indeed come to seek and save the lost -- don't worry about being seeker-sensitive, HE is the seeker -- whether that be those who cast aside their own people for power or those who are idle because they are not hired, as we all seek first our own gain by nature and are all "unemployable" before the justice of God, who instead shows us mercy in Christ Whom He has sent.

The Plan Of The Western Transition, Gesimatide.

Here are the readings for the three Sundays of Gesimatide. This is particularly of value for us Lutherans, because the readings for each of the three Sundays of Gesimatide correspond with what came to be called the three "solas" in the Lutheran Reformation!

Septuagesima Sunday, "70 Days". By Grace Alone. (5 Feb 2012)

Introit.
Psalm 18:5,6,7. Verse Psalm 18:2,3.
Collect.
O Lord, we beseech Thee favourably to hear the prayers of Thy people that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by The goodness, for the glory of Thy name, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Saviour, who liveth etc.
Epistle.
1 Cor 9:24 - 10:5.
Gospel.
Matthew 20:1-16. The Workers in the Vinyard. Sola gratia, by grace alone.

Sexagesima Sunday, "60 Days". By Scripture Alone. (12 Feb 2012)

Introit.
Psalm 44:23-26. Verse Psalm 44:2.
Collect.
O God, who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do, mercifully grant that by Thy power we may be defended against all adversity, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, who liveth etc.
Epistle.
2 Cor 11:19 - 12.9
Gospel.
Luke 8:4-15. The Sower and the Seed. Sola scriptura, by scripture alone.

Quinquagesima Sunday, "50 Days". By Faith Alone. (19 February 2012)

Introit.
Psalm 31:3,4. Verse Psalm 31:1.
Collect.
O Lord, we beseech Thee, mercifully hear our prayers and, having set us free from the bonds of sin, defend us from all evil, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, who liveth etc.
Epistle.
1 Cor 13:1-13.
Gospel.
Luke 18:31-43. Healing the Blind Man. Sola fide, by faith alone.

01 February 2012

Candlemas (2 February) 2012. A 40 Days of Purpose.

The Law Of Moses Observed.

In the Law of Moses, when a woman gives birth to a boy, she is ritually unclean for seven days, then in the "blood of purification" for another thirty three days, total of forty days, at which time she goes to the mikveh for a ritual bath of purification.

What's a mikveh? The word, also given as mikvah, means collection -- what is collected is water, not just any water, but water from a natural source, such as rain, or better yet "living water" from a spring or well, which must be naturally transported, not pumped or carried. Total immersion in the water of a mikveh -- anyone thinking Baptism? -- is considered so important, restoring ritual purity after ritually impure things have happened, such as childbirth, that a Jewish community must provide a mikveh even before it builds a place of worship (synagogue).

So, to observe and fulfill the Mosaic Law, Mary was purified in a ritual bath in a mikveh, after which her first-born Son was presented in the Temple to dedicate him to God. In the Western Church, since the birth of Jesus has been set on 25 December for its celebration, the celebration of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple is fixed forty days later, 2 February. Easter, however, does not have a fixed date, and Holy Week, and the preparation for it, Lent, and the transition to it, Gesimatide, are reckoned backward from Easter's date in any given year. That is why in some years, like 2010, it may happen after the transition to Lent, Gesimatide, is underway. Or in this year, 2012, it happens only three days before Gesimatide begins with Septuagesima on 5 February.

In the Eastern Church, we saw in an earlier post that Epiphany, 6 January (at least until 1960s Rome got a hold of it), originally contained all the events of the early life of Jesus including his birth. And, 25 December in the Gregorian calendar of the West, now in civil use in most of the world, falls on 7 January in the Julian calendar still in liturgical use in the East, so, the 40th day after it falls on Gregorian 15 February in the East, and is called The Meeting of the Lord.

Either way, either part of the church, either calendar, forty days after Jesus' birth celebration.

The Gospel Fulfillment Of The Law.

The Gospel account of it is Luke 2:22-40, the Gospel reading for the day. Part of it relates Simeon the Elder, who had been promised that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. When Mary brought Jesus for the meeting, Simeon saw him and recognised him as the Messiah, saying what is now called the Canticle of Simeon, or, from its first words in Latin, nunc dimittis: Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel. This reference to light gave rise to the custom of blessing the candles on this day for use in the church during the year, which in turn has given the day yet another name, Candelemas, or mass of the candles. Some observances include a procession with candles to the church.

The nunc dimittis has also become a feature of the Office of Compline, the completing church office of prayer for the day. In the Lutheran Common Service, that most wonderful version of the Western liturgy, in its current edition known as Divine Service Setting III in Lutheran Service Book, the nunc dimittis is also sung after Communion. A practice which continues even in our Vatican II wannabe services of late, though of course with the Vatican II-esque option of doing something else instead. 1960s Rome downplays the candles and Mary stuff for the Simeon thing. Simeon did no such thing. He got the purpose about Mary and light to the people.

The Prophecy of Simeon.

Simeon said something else too, and it should not be forgotten. The joy of the Messiah cannot be separated from the reason why he came, which isn't all that pretty. Saviours are great, as long as it's not about being saved from sin. Jesus would run into this again, to put it mildly, and Satan would even tempt him about it during another forty days the church is about to celebrate in imitation of his forty days in the desert, Lent. Simeon said:

Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against -- yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also (this to Mary) -- that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

The cross, the crucifixion, the payment for redemption from sin, is present here too, as the central event in the life of Jesus, the life of Man, and the life of each man. Bishop Sheen once remarked that the crucifix is the autobiography of every Christian.

Ain't It Just A Christianised Groundhog Day Or Other Pagan Stuff?

As with Christmas, Candlemas is sometimes taken as simply a Christian version of pre-existing observances. 2 February is the date of Imbolc, a Celtic observance of the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It was associated with the goddess Brigit, where sacred fires were maintained by 19 consecrated women in Kildare -- sort of an Irish Vesta -- some of whose legends seem to have been passed to the Christian St Brigit. And Brigit, through mingling of Irish and African slaves in the New World, may be the source of Maman Brigitte in Voodoo. Imbolc was also a time of weather forecasting, with Spring coming on, when snakes or badgers or other animals were watched to see if they would come out of their Winter hibernation, indicating a short Winter, or not, indicating a longer one.

Well, as with superficial similarities with pre-Christian Winter solstice observances, the content of fulfilling the Mosaic Law by the newborn Messiah is rather different than simultaneous pagan observances, including the references to light. But, as to watching animals for a clue to the length of the remaining cold weather -- hello, Groundhog Day, which is also, guess what, 2 February!

And then there's the Roman Lupercalia, the Wolf Feast, honouring the she-wolf who raised Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, celebrated this time of year too. In it, the Luperci, the priests of the wolf (lupus in Latin) sacrificed, well, originally people, but then two male goats and a dog, whose blood was put on the foreheads of other Luperci, then there was a feast, then the Luperci cut thongs from the animal skins -- called februa, from which comes our month name February! -- and put on the rest, running around town, with women coming forward to be lashed by the thongs to insure both fertility and easy childbirth.

Hey, this lasted well into Christian Rome and beyond, and some think Pope Gelasius in the 490s -- after the sack of Rome by the Visigoth under Alaric in 410 and by the Vandals under Geiseric (aka Genseric or Gaiseric) in 455 and the deposing of the last Roman Emperor in the West, Romulus Augustus, by the Arian Germanic-Italian King Odoacer on 4 September 476 -- used Candlemas to replace and remove Lupercalia.

So What's A Candlemas? This.

So what do we have here? Later, Christianed-over versions of universal themes, or, universal themes that derive from natural knowledge of God, and therefore have something to them, but could never even have guessed the Law and Gospel in the revealed word of God in Scripture.

Well, as we saw with Christmas and will see with Easter, both. You got your choice. Yeah, there is 2 February as modern and presumably more civilised and less superstitious observances that Winter will end sooner or later and nice weather come back -- Groundhog Day, which also has the advantage that you're way less likely to have the cops called on your Groundhog Day party than if you try to have a Lupercalia.

And, there's 2 February as something to which these things have only the crudest of inklings in the fallen heart of Man -- The Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Mary.

Collect for Candlemas, to collect our thoughts for the day. (From The Lutheran Hymnal)

Almighty and ever-living God, we humbly beseech Thy majesty that, as Thine only-begotten Son was this day presented in the Temple in the substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto Thee with pure and clean hearts; by the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.