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The Light of Men

February 02, 2018
Simeon's Song of Praise, Aert de Gelder, c 1700–1710.

The Light of Men

In him was life: and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness: and the darkness did not comprehend it. That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. (Jn 1)

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Jesus is the light of the world

Light is a metaphor (symbol) for many things in scripture and in the liturgy:

  • truth (vs lies)
  • understanding (vs incomprehension)
  • good (vs bad)
  • salvation (vs damnation)
  • love

Candles have a deep symbolism in the liturgy too because they produce light. In the Praeconuim Paschale which is sung in front of the paschal candle by a deacon during the Easter Vigil, the candle is described as:

  • a light from which many flames are kindled without being dimmed,
  • a light fed by the sacrifice of melting wax which is in turn the sacrifice of virginal bees

...and so a burning candle is very fittingly used to symbolise Christ as the Light of the World:

  • He gives us Himself and is not in anyway diminished;
  • He sacrificed His mortal body made by His Virginal Mother.

The Ceremony

Before the Mass of the Feast of the Presentation is the ceremony of the blessing of the candles and a procession with candles alight. Candles are then held alight during the Mass (at the Gospel and during the Canon) to remind ourselves that Jesus is the light of the world. The old man Simeon understood this well when he gave us the prayer that all the priests, brothers, monks and sisters say everyday at Compline and which we sing when the candles are distributed:

Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace; 
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum;
Quod parasti ante facium omnium populorum;
Lumen et revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuae Israel

Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace;
Because my eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:
A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Jesus is Truth, He is the Revelation to gentiles and the glory the Israelites. He is Goodness and He is our salvation. The desire of Simeon should find an echo in us, my dear brethren. We should live with a holy desire of seeing our Redeemer face to face. We should search for the Light and pray for understanding of His Revelation so that, one day, we be ready to see Him and then be dismissed from this earthly prison in peace. The Blessed Virgin Mary must have felt this same desire too after her divine Son has ascended into heaven. May she grant us the grace to be like her.

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