Candlemas and the Gromnica


by Andrew Fanco on January 30, 2015

February 2nd is the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as Candlemas. This date is 40 days after Christmas and is the end of the Christmas season. (In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the Preface of Christmas is used.) Mary undergoes this purification ritual following Mosaic law as the Catholic Encyclopedia states,

“a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain three and thirty days “in the blood of her purification.” …  When the time … was over the mother was to “bring to the temple a lamb for a holocaust and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin”; if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; the priest prayed for her and so she was cleansed.”

Mary and Joseph being poor offered two turtles doves. (Hence the reference in the 12 days of Christmas.)

Prior to Holy Mass, the priest in purple stole and cope blesses candles of beeswax:

“Holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God, who hast created all things out of nothing, and by Thy command hast caused this liquid to become perfect wax by the labor of bees: and who, on this day didst fulfill the petition of the righteous man, Simeon: we humbly entreat Thee, that by the invocation of Thy most holy Name and through the intercession of Blessed Mary ever Virgin whose feast is today devoutly observed, and by the prayers of all Thy Saints, Thou wouldst vouchsafe to bless and sanctify these candles for the service of men and for the health of their bodies and souls, whether on land or on sea…”

“Lord Jesus Christ, the true Light who enlightenest every man that cometh into this world: pour forth Thy blessing upon these candles, and sanctify them with the light of Thy grace, and mercifully grant, that as these lights enkindled with visible fire dispel the darkness of night, so our hearts illumined by invisible fire, that is, by the splendour of the Holy Spirit, may be free from the blindness of all vice, that the eye of our mind being cleansed, we may be able to discern what is pleasing to Thee and profitable to our salvation; so that after the perilous darkness of this life we may deserve to attain to never-failing light…”

The distribution of candles follows while the Nunc Dimittis is chanted with this antiphon: “A light for the revelation of the Gentiles: and for the glory of Thy people Israel.” The procession ensues inside the church: “V. Procedamus in Pace. R. In Nomine Christi. Amen.” The choir chants two antiphons followed by the responsory based on Luke 2:22-24:

“They offered for Him to the Lord a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons:  As it is written in the Law of the Lord. After the days of the purification of Mary, according to the law of Moses, were fulfilled, they carried Jesus to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord…”

The procession symbolizes the entrance of Christ the Light of the world into the Temple. These candles can be taken home by the faithful for use throughout the year. The candles are extinguished and Mass begins (omitting the prayers at the foot of the altar) after the priest vests.

One popular custom in Poland is that of the Gromnica, the Thunder Candle.  The blessed candle is brought to the home, and the family seeks the protection of Matki Bożej Gromnicznej, Our Lady of the Thunder Candle. Michał Elwiro Andriolli’s drawing shown above illustrates the head of a family burning the sign of the cross into the cross beam of their home with their Thunder Candle. The Blessed Mother would then protect the family from wolves and other wild animals. During storms the Gromnica would be placed in the window to protect the home from lightning. Also, the Gromnica would be placed in the hands of the dying lighting their way to eternal life.

Today in our modern homes we may not fear wild animals or storms, but perhaps by participating in the Candlemas procession and taking home a blessed candle, we can bring the light of Christ into our homes and in turn, the world.





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