At the end of the fourth century, a woman named Etheria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her journal, discovered in 1887, gives an unprecedented glimpse of liturgical life there.
Among the record of celebrations she describes, one identifies the gala procession in honor of Christ’s Presentation in the Temple 40 days after the Nativity. This feast emphasizes Jesus’ first appearance in the Temple more than Mary’s purification.
According to Jewish law, the firstborn male child belonged to God, and the parents had to “buy him back” on the 40th day after his birth, by offering a sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” in the temple (thus the “presentation” of the child).
On that same day, the mother would be ritually purified (thus the “purification” of Mary). Under the Mosaic Law, a woman was ritually “unclean” for 40 days after childbirth, at which time she was to present herself to the priests and offer sacrifice—her “purification.” Contact with anyone who had brushed against the mystery of birth or death excluded a person from Jewish worship.
At the beginning of the eighth century, the blessing and distribution of candles, which continues to this day on the Feast of the Presentation, became part of the celebration, giving the feast its popular name of Candlemas.
Many Catholics might remember Saint Blaise’s feast day because of the Blessing of the Throats that takes place on February 3. Two blessed candles crossed one over the other are held slightly open and pressed against the throat as a blessing is said, which is: “Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness: in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
While very few facts are known about Saint Blaise, he was a bishop in Armenia who was martyred in the early fourth century. Saint Blaise is associated with the healing of throats. (9:10)