February 2, 2019

Groundhogs, Candles, the Presentation of the Lord & Consecrated Life

Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (1631 – Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn)

As Franciscan Friars Conventual, the World Day for Consecrated Life is especially dear to us. Our friars profess the vows of poverty, chastity & obedience and since 1997 have looked forward to this special day of prayer, in celebration of all those women and men who profess vows as members of Religious Orders, in Consecrated Life. Pope Saint John Paul II established this World Day for Consecrated Life to coincide with the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
Up until the year 1969, the Feast of the Presentation was known as the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady, as it is celebrated 40 days after the Birth of Christ. In accordance with an old Jewish custom, a woman was considered unclean and homebound for a time after giving birth. If the child was a male she was considered unclean for seven days and remained home an additional 33, making her time home 40 days. It was twice as long if the child was a female. February 2nd is 40 days after the Birth of Our Lord. It is on the day of His presentation that Mary, who brought Jesus to the Temple along with Joseph, was cleansed. Jesus was presented and Simeon, a hold man in the Temple, met sister death, after holding Jesus in his arms. Simeon was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. He knew Jesus was the one to bring salvation to all. “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people, Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
Candlemas Day is also a term used for this day. As Jesus is the “Light for Revelation,” the tradition among the faithful of Europe became a celebration of Candlemas where candles became an integral part of various church services. When European immigrants came to the USA in the 1700’s, they brought this tradition with them. The clergy would bless the candles used by the faithful to help them get through the winter season. This time of winter often coincides with the beginning of Lent, although this year, it is a whole month prior. Still the celebration is used to give a time of “Light” in the cold, dark winter, falling between the winter solstice and summer equinox.

How did we go from the Presentation to candles to a Groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil?
In addition to bringing the Candlemas tradition with them to the USA, German immigrants had another tradition they brought from Europe, for predicting the weather. The use of nature’s creatures to predict the future weather goes back to Roman times. In Germany, it was common to observe the reaction of a hedgehog emerging from his burrow. In the 1840′s, the German farmers who settled in Pennsylvania attempted to predict the winter weather as they always had, but found there was a shortage of hedgehogs. Groundhogs were plentiful and lived in burrows. Since their reactions to “seeing his own shadow” was the same as with the hedgehog and thusly the US tradition of February 2nd’s Groundhog Day was born.

Prayer of the Faithful for the World Day for Consecrated Life:
For those consecrated to God by the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience that they may seek to live their baptismal promises more intensely and have the grace to persevere in their commitment to the Lord and serve with open hearts and willing spirits. We pray to the Lord…

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