This candlelight service is the reason why there are usually candlelight services on Christmas Eve. The candlelight was transferred, over time, to Christmas Eve, and the use of a candlelight service on Candlemas, or the Presentation, fell into disuse for the most part. But considering its place and history it should be brought back where it fell into disuse.
Historically, at this candlelight service on the Presentation, all the candles to be used during the coming year would be blessed by the Celebrant, that is, they would be set apart for sacred use, and would not be used for any profane use. The service would begin with this blessing. Then everyone in the congregation would either come forward to receive a lighted candle, or the light would be distributed to them in the pew (as is done in most congregations on Christmas Eve today). During the distribution of the candles the chanting of the Nunc Dimittis would occur, with the antiphon, "A Light to lighten the Gentiles," repeated after every verse.
Then the congregation would observe what is known as a procession. In most parishes today, a procession is simply when the clergy go from the back of the church to the front of the church, and this is sometimes marked by various pomp and circumstance. This is not historically what is considered a processional. A processional is a distinct liturgical act, with a specific starting and end point, and with "stations," or places to stop for prayer and reflection, along the way. A procession also includes the participation of the whole congregation, and not just certain individuals.
So for example, the Presentation processional starts from where the candles are blessed, and then proceeds down the center aisle (and if the congregation are in their pews they would join the processional two by two after it passed by), then up the North aisle, across the front of the chancel, then down the South aisle, and up the center aisle and then proceeds to the first station, which is the place where the candles were blessed, while singing the hymn "Thou Light of Gentile Nations."
by Michel Chapuis
This is the tune for "Thou Light of Gentile Nations"
This procession is then repeated. The next and last station is the high altar where a collect is prayed by the Celebrant. During this leg of the procession the processional hymn, "In Peace and Joy I Now Depart" is sung.
Setting by Johannes Brahms
This is stanza 1 of
"In Peace and Joy I Now Depart"
sung in German
Upon the final pass down the center aisle the congregational members return to their pews. After the Collect the service continues with the Confiteor (or the Introit if the Confessional Service as been used prior to the service). The opening hymn is omitted. The candles are extinguished.
Deacon Dulas is ordained into the pastorate and member of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (eldona.org). In his own words, "My call is to serve as deacon and missionary-at-large to MN and WI at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Tony, WI. We are starting a mission here in Mayer, MN, and the surrounding area called St. Matthew Ev. Luth. Mission."
Like what you are reading? Check out Deacon Dulas' blog at The Deacon's Didache.