Last year, I posted three examples of overlap between the rites of east and west. You may read them here, here, and here.
Well, I have found yet another. Due to this illuminating post by Joseph, I was moved to compare the candle-blessing ceremonies of east and west for the feast of the Encounter of the Lord on the 2nd of February, and was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered.
Both eastern and western rites have five prayers of blessing of the candles. Here is the second prayer from the Roman Rite:
O Lord, holy Father, almighty everlasting God, Who hast created all things out of nothing, and Who through the labour of bees at thy command hast caused this fluid to come to the perfection of wax, and Who, on this day, didst fulfil the request of the Just Symeon, we humbly beseech Thee, that Thou wouldest vouchsafe to bless and sanctify these candles prepared for the service of man, and for the health of their bodies and souls, whether by land or sea, through the invocation of thy holy Name, and through the intercession of St Mary, Ever-Virgin, whose festival is this day devoutly celebrated, and through the prayers of all thy Saints; and that from thy holy heaven, and from the seat of thy majesty, Thou wouldest hear the voice of this thy people, who desire in thy honour to bear them in their hands, and to praise and exalt Thee; and that Thou wouldest be propitious unto all who call upon Thee, whom Thou has redeemed with the precious blood of thy Son. Who with Thee and the Holy Spirit liveth in glory, God, for ever and ever. Amen.It is a rather beautful prayer, I think. Now compare it to the first prayer of blessing from the Byzantine Rite:
O Holy Master, Father Almighty, O Pre-eternal God, Who, at thy command, madest all things out of nothingness, and Who, only by thinking it broughtest this creation to the perfect Light, and Who hast fulfilled the petition of the Righteous Symeon on this present day: we humbly pray that Thou be pleased to bless and sanctify these candles, which have been prepared beforehand at the request of the people, for the health of soul and body, whether they be on land or on the waters, at the invocaton of thy most holy Name, and by the prayers of the Blessed and Ever-Virgin Mary, whose feast we now reverently celebrate, and by the prayers of all thy Saints. And from thy holy heaven, hearken unto the voices of these, thy people, who reverently desire to carry them, and, singing hymns, to glorify Thee; and from the throne of thy majesty, be merciful unto all crying out unto Thee, whom Thou hast purchased with the precious blood of thy Son, with Whom Thou art blessed, together with thy Most-holy, Good, and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.This is quite obviously the same prayer. I find this to be quite interesting in and of itself, but there's more. Here, for example, is the third prayer of blessing from the Roman Rite:
Almighty everlasting God, Who as on this day wast pleased that thine Only-Begotten One should be presented in thy holy temple, and received in the arms of St Symeon, we humbly beseech thy mercy that Thou wouldest vouchsafe to bless, and sanctify, and kindle with the light of thy heavenly benediction these candles, which we thy servants desire to take up and carry in honour of thy Name, to the end that, by offering them to Thee our Lord God, and being inflamed by the holy fire of thy most sweet brightness, we may be found worthy to be presented in the holy temple of thy glory. Through the same thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.Compare this to the second prayer of blessing of the Byzatine Rite:
O Almighty, Pre-eternal God, Who on this day didst lay thine Only-Begotten Son in the arms of the Holy Symeon in thy holy temple, we call upon thy deep compassion: do Thou bless and sanctify these candles which we, thy servants, receive and desire to carry for the majesty of thy Name, and be pleased to light them with the light of thy heavenly blessing, that we who are offering them unto Thee, our Lord God, meetly enflamed with thy sweetest love, through a holy fire, may be counted worthy also to stand in the Temple of thy glory. For Thou art our God, and unto Thee do we send up glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Sprit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.This raises some interesing questions. How did these same prayers end up in both rites? On the one hand, it should seem fairly unremarkable. After all, eastern and western rites have many traits in common due to their common origins. Many of the readings at the western paschal vigil and the old eastern paschal vigil are the same, as a prime example.
However, something does not seem to quite fit. The two prayers above state an explicit desire to carry the candles. In the Roman Rite, this is a clear reference to what immediately follows the blessing of the candles, where the people carry them, lit, in procession. As Joseph points out, this symbolises or actualises our participation in the event and mystery which the feast calls us to celebrate: the presentation of Christ in the temple. However, no such procession exists in the Byzantine Rite, yet the prayers refer to the people carrying the candles. How do we explain this?
Is the presence of these prayers in both east and west indicative of their antiquity? Or is it more likely that they migrated into the Byzantine Rite due to a later cross-fertilisation of the rites? We have seen this happen in the other direction with the tone 2 Sunday Matins stikheron finding its way into the Sarum ceremonies for Easter Day, so it is possible, and it would certainly explain the references to a non-existent procession. While it is not implausible that the procession did once exist in the Byzantine east and fell into disuse at some point, this line of thought raises another question, which is that of the timing of this ceremony. In the Byzantine Rite, most liturgical actions of this sort are to be inserted near the end of the Divine Liturgy. They customarily take place after the Prayer Below the Ambo and before the threefold "Blessed be the Name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore". This is true of the blessing of grapes at Transfiguration, herbs at Dormition, and of water at Theophany, among other things. This is even the place for the insertion of processions, such as the moleben procession on the patronal festival of a parish or monastery. Yet the rubrics stipulate that the blessing of candles is to take place, not at this point, but after the Sixth Hour and before the Divine Liturgy, which is precisely the position called for in the Roman Rite. Thus it is quite uncharacteristic of the Byzantine liturgical tradition.
My personal suspicion is that this ceremony is a later interpolation into the Byzantine Rite. It is only in the west that the feast came to be commonly known as Candlemass and the ceremonies surrounding the candles do not quite seem to fit when transferred into eastern practice. I am, of course, willing to be corrected by those who know more about the development of these things but here are my own thoughts, open to scrutiny and comment.