A friend tipped me off the other day that last Friday was Candlemas and that there would be a special service at St Louis, King of France (I don’t think there are too many other Kingly saints; he also led two Crusades to the Holy Land) and I jumped at it. I had planned to go over there on St Louis’ feast day last Fall, but car troubles kept me away.
I had walked and driven by the church, located in downtown St Paul, probably hundreds of times over the years, but had never been inside before. So I chose the coldest night around here in maybe a decade to slip on my parka and mukluks and see what this church had to offer.
I could barely remember that Candlemas was a feast of the Church but I thought it was the feast where we had our throat’s blessed, St Blaise’s feast day. Candlemas, February 2, is the 40th day after the birth of Our Lord and the day on which the Blessed Mother was required to go to the Temple for her Purification after the birth of Jesus. St Blaise’s day is February 3. Sunday, February 4, would have been Septuagesima Sunday (the 70th day before Easter), I think, if you were wondering.
A solemn procession at the beginning of the Mass represents the entry of Christ, who is the Light of the World, into the Temple of Jerusalem. The blessing and distribution of beeswax candles is a practice that did not begin until the 11th Century. One reason probably being that St Paul and other Fire Codes do not allow parishioners to have lit candles in the pews. Few parishes make a point of celebrating Candlemas and the Purification anymore.
Be that as it may, being the night was so frigid, I found a parking space right across from this French church, surely one of the oldest in St Paul, and had no problem finding a good vantage point, as the bitter cold kept the parishioners down to about 75 or so.
I recalled that prior to my planned trip to St Louis' last fall, I had seen some interior photos of the church and I now saw that they didn’t do justice to what has been done there. A lot of proper remodeling has taken place in recent years that included the installation of an absolutely magnificent organ in the choir loft, thanks to the generosity of a local family. Wonderful statuary, including one of an armed St Joan of Arc flanking the Gospel side of the altar and one of St Anne and her daughter, the Blessed Virgin, among others. Magnificently decorated all over.
It would be nice if St Joan’s in Minneapolis had a statue like that, even though they are feminists over there to a person, I don’t believe they believe in statues any more.
Then glancing over, I was startled to see that the church’s crèche was still up, later seeing in the program that this was the last day of the Christmas season under the old calendar. Wow! What a beautiful crèche, too! And even better, catering to my prejudices, it was just loaded with angels, 25 by actual count, singing their hosannas to the Newborn Babe. And they were all male. Me and Saints Michael, Raphael and Gabriel would like to know who turned angels into females and naked cherubs! We'd like to have a little chat in the alley.
Since I was a little early, I grabbed a hymnal from the rack in front of me and inhaled sharply when I saw that it was the GIA’s “Worship” red book. Not my favorite brand. But the church was so gorgeous, the crèche was still up, all those male angels were singing hosannas, I figured it couldn’t be too bad.
Then an usher came by and handed me a printed program with the actual music for the Mass. Wow! I figure you can’t go wrong when the authors of the musical texts were the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Reverend Frederick William Faber and another guy, but all three born before 1825. My kind of church music!
The church is staffed by French Marist priests. The pastor, Father Paul Morrissey, with his assistant as a con-celebrant, celebrated as liturgically correct and as devout a Mass as I have ever been present for. The homily was a boon to this history geeks heart as Father Morrissey wove the Readings and the Gospel of this special Mass together to teach us who were present what the significance of the Purification was.Daily Masses are at 6:45 and 12:10 and an additional one at 10:10 on Mondays; Confessions are daily at 6:30 and 11:30 and an additional time at 9:30 on Mondays. There are Novena prayers to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal on Mondays at 10:00 and 12:00 noon.
Why was the Mass special? Father explained at the end: No collection and free candles for all!