The feast of the Presentation of the Lord continues an ancient tradition of blessing candles, which has rich symbolism and various possible origins.
February 2 in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church is known by many names. It is officially called the Presentation of the Lord, commemorating the presentation of Jesus in the Temple that is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke.
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.Luke 2:22
Also based on this same passage, the feast is called the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, referring to the rite of purification that Mary participated in 40 days after the birth of Jesus.
The most curious name of this feast is Candlemas, which refers to blessing of candles that occurs on this day.
Why bless candles on February 2?
St. Luke narrates how, while at the Temple, the Holy Family encountered an old man named Simeon, and what he said next constitutes the basis for why the feast is called Candlemas.
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 sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.Luke 2:29-32
Simeon declared that Jesus would be a “light,” and the Church developed a custom of lighting and blessing candles on this day.
The origin of this blessing of candles is difficult to pinpoint. According to various liturgical scholars, a woman named Ikelia introduced a procession of candles on this feast in the 4th century in Jerusalem. This custom was then adopted later in Rome.
An alternative possibility is that the Roman church desired to replace the pagan celebration of Lupercalia that occurred on February 15. However, there is little to link the two feasts together.
Whatever the exact origins might be, the blessing of candles continues on February 2 in recognition of Jesus being the light of the world.