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Friday 2 February 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — feast of the Presentation of the Lord

You know me, dear readers, I live my life by the Liturgical calendar. Of course I waited until January 8 to take down my Christmas tree. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord, as we all know, is officially the last day of the Christmas season.

Taking down my Christmas tree wasn’t much of a hassle this year due to the simple fact that it had no ornaments. It’s a pre-lit artificial tree covered with thick white flocking. I thought it looked fine without ornaments. Now it just needed to be stuffed back into the carton. 

The only thing left of Christmas at Ye Old Rectory is the Five and Ten Nativity scene in my room. Today is the day when, every year, I pack the manger away. Today, Candlemas Day, is the last flicker of the Christmas season. The Liturgy begins to turn towards spring. Anything Christmas is henceforth out of place.

I am especially fond of the Liturgy of Candlemas Day. Holy Mass on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord begins with a blessing of candles and includes the whole assembly processing with lighted candles into the church. It’s similar to the procession commemorating the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, except everyone holds candles instead of palms. 

The feast of the Presentation falls on a weekday, so there will not be the same numbers of worshippers as on a weekend. Still, weekday Masses here can see 30 people or more, so attendance will allow for a respectable procession. 

Following the advice of some Liturgists, for several years I invited people to bring candles from home for the blessing. Everybody these days has candles at home, I figured. It didn’t work. People forgot. There was nothing for me to bless. Awkward. I had to delay the beginning of Mass in order to raid the church candle closet. Now I just put out a box of those congregational tapers that are used at the Easter Vigil. A basic Liturgical principle is this: Do what works. 

In a procession, everybody moves from one place to another — or at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. Somehow, walking around the aisles of the church doesn’t have the same effect. It looks more like circling the wagons in an old TV western. Still, I suppose it’s better than skipping the whole thing altogether. 

After trying different locations for the blessing of the candles, I settled upon the north lobby of the church. It’s an adequate space, visibly and physically separate from the main worship area. It’s about as far as you can get from the Sanctuary without being out on the sidewalk. The month of February is not a good time to plan a procession that begins outside. Another basic Liturgical principle: Be sensible. 

Once Mass on the feast of the Presentation has been celebrated, it’s time to revisit the checklist for Lent/Holy Week/Easter — if you tend to be last-minute and haven’t done so already. 

Do you have enough ashes for Ash Wednesday? It’s easier (and safer) to just order them in little plastic Ziploc bags than to go through the trouble of burning last year’s dried-up palms. Check.

Have you ordered enough palms? The packages of palms tend to arrive well in advance. Be sure to store them in a cool, dry place. Also, don’t forget to check your supply of palms to be certain the fronds are free from yucky blight and mold. That would ruin the procession. Check. 

Do you have a new Paschal candle? Paschal candles are expensive but they are an important symbol of the presence of the Risen Christ among us at Liturgies throughout the year (funerals, Baptisms, and all Liturgies during the 50-day Easter season). Just scraping the decal numerals off last year’s Paschal candle stub would save money, but the optics would be terrible. Check.

Do you have enough fresh tapers for all members of the assembly at the Easter Vigil? (Hopefully, you didn’t use them all on Candlemas Day). Nobody wants a second-hand taper. Check.

Have you planned for the look of the Lenten Sanctuary? Remember, no cut flowers, except for on solemnities and Laetare Sunday. Lent is a good time to retire those scraggly potted palms as well. A Lenten Sanctuary needs to look simple, bordering on starkness. Check.

Most important are the Spiritual preparations. Are parishioners prepared for meaningful prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent? 

Will there be additional opportunities for prayer and Spiritual conferences? Check.

Are the catechumens ready for their final Spiritual formation before full initiation into the Church? (We don’t have any this year).

Have you purchased some take-home Lenten Spiritual reading for distribution to parishioners? Check.

Nothing Liturgical “just happens.” Preparing for the season of Lent/Holy Week/Easter is more complicated than you may at first suspect. Not that I would ever want to procrastinate, dear readers, but I think I’ll enjoy my manger scene a bit longer.

“Ready. Set. Wait!” That’s my motto.

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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