Today, February 2nd, is the 40th day after Christmas Day. For people of Polish descent who faithfully observe their ethnic customs, it is the last day of the Christmas Season. This holy time of year always comes to an end with a very important Church Feast, The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. On this special day we commemorate Mary and Joseph bringing the child Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem for the first time, 40 days after His birth. According to the ancient Law of Moses, every Jewish mother was excluded from attendance at public worship for 40 days after giving birth to a boy child. Mary fulfilled this command of the law by presenting two pigeons as a sin offering and through the paryers of a priest was pruified from the ritual uncleanliness associated with childbirth. This feast day, therefore, was formerly called the Purification of Mary.
Today the feast is commonly known as Candlemas Day because of the blessing of candles which takes place at the beginning of Mass. The lighted candles are carried in procession in church to remind us that it is Jesus Christ who is the true Light of the World, a Revelation to all the nations and the glory of the People of Israel.
In Poland this day is called Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej which is translated literallly as Mother of God of the Thunder Candle. The candles blessed this day are called gromnicy or thunder candles because they are kept in the home for use especially in time of thunderstorms to protext the house from being hit by lightning. They are also a protection against other natural calamities such as floods, fire and drought. The blessed candles are also lit at the bedside of the dying to protect the individual from Satan, and to light the way to heaven. It was believed by many that at the time of death there was a contest for the soul of the dying between angels and the devil.
At the Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan there is a beautiful painting hanging in one of the halls which depicts Mary walking at night through the snows of the Polish countryside, carrying a large candle in her hands as if it was a sword. At her feet wolves can be seen running fearfully away from her and from the small cottages of the townsfolk she is protecting. Polish legend says she walks across Poland with her gromnica aglow, protecting homes and farm animals from many packs of hungry wolves, that prowl about looking for prey during the harsh Polish winters.
Even though we do not live in rural Poland, on this occasion I encourage us all to invoke the Blessed Virgin for her help and protection on one of her special feast days. May Mary continue to protect each one of us from the dangers that roam the dark streets of our world at night during the remainder of this winter.
[Many thanks to Rev. Mark A. Borkowski, Associate Pastor, Ss Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Detroit, Michigan, who was kind enough to allow me to share his article with you.]
My maternal and paternal grandparents were married at Sweetest Heart of Mary Church, were members of the parish, and no doubt walked in procession there for the Candlemas celebration. It warms my heart to think of them celebrating this very Polish, very Catholic, feast day.