FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD
Mal 3:1-4; Heb 2:10-11, 13b-18; Lk 2:22-40
“For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Lk. 2:30). These are the words that echo the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord that we are celebrating today. The events surrounding this special Feast are found in Luke 2:22-40. This feast overlaps with various names, meanings, and traditions:
- The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple
- The Purification of Mary
- The Meeting of the Lord
- The Feast of Candlemas
- Marking forty days after Christmas (Birth of Jesus)
- The conclusion of the Nativity (Christmas liturgical season – in the East)
- The biblical account of the Presentation is the source for the “two turtle doves” in the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
- The sword piercing Mary’s Immaculate Heart in Catholic iconography comes from the words of Simeon (It is the first of the “7 sorrows of Mary” –SEE NB. at the bottom of the last page)
- The Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary
- The Canticle prayed by all the world’s priests and nuns every single night of their lives: “At last, Oh powerful Master ….”
It is clear that this feast can be considered a joint memorial of Son and of Mother, a memorial of Jesus and of Mary. However, while today’s readings echo both, the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, in her wisdom, the Catholic Church deems it more praiseworthy to place emphasis on the Feast of the Lord Jesus.
- A MEMORIAL OF JESUS, SON OF GOD
- a) The Lord is coming into His Temple. This is Jesus’ first visit, of many, to the temple. It is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi in the first reading, “suddenly there will come to the temple, the Lord whom you seek…” (Mal 3:1) The text in Malachi goes on to say that when the Lord enters the temple he will purify and refine the Levites (priests) so that they will offer a pure sacrifice to the Lord and then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord (Mal 3:3-4). “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap” (Mal 3:2) “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.” (Mal. 3:3)
These words echo the words of Jesus who himself stated that he would be the cause of division. Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Lk 12:49-51). On the same matter, John the Baptist stated, “I baptize you with water for repentance but One who is more powerful than I … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and will gather His wheat into the granary; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mtt 3:11-12). Malachi foresees Christ and his priests of the New Covenant, first ordained during the Last Supper.
The second reading from Hebrews confirms that Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant (Heb 2:17). Jesus, as high priest of the New Covenant, offered himself on the altar of Calvary, the only pure priestly sacrifice that could please God. Therefore, when Jesus was presented in the temple, everything foreseen in Malachi was already beginning to unfold and would be fully unfolded when Jesus would die on the cross and his priests of the New Covenant would continue to make that sacrifice present in the pure sacrifice of the Eucharist offered from east to west.
- b) Another Epiphany of Jesus: This feast also commemorates God’s encounter with Simeon and Anna. It is, as it were, is another ‘epiphany’ celebration insofar as the Christ Child is revealed as the Messiah through the canticle and words of Simeon and the testimony of Anna the prophetess.
- c) Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise to the people of Israel. Simeon took the baby Jesus and held him close to his heart. There, Simeon held the answer to his hopes and the hopes of Israel, the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). He held in his arms, as he said, the glory of Israel and the light of the Gentiles (Luke 2:32). The glory of God was seen in the form of a cloud a number of times in the Old Testament, on Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16), in the Tabernacle in the desert (Num 9:16-18), and when the temple in Jerusalem was consecrated (1Kings 8:10-11). But now Jesus is the glory of Israel, the revelation to Israel. Before now, Judaism had a partial glimpse of God by means of a glory cloud, now everyone can see the glory or revelation of God in the baby Jesus.
- d) Christ is the light of the nations. This understanding is also inspired by the words of the Canticle of Simeon (“a light to the revelation of the Gentiles”). Up to now, the big light in the temple was the giant menorah or lampstand, but now Jesus is the light and not just lighting up the temple but to give light also to the Gentiles, to enlighten and brighten the whole world. Simeon’s very long wait has come to an end with Jesus the fulfillment of Judaism, the glory of Israel and the light of the world, in his arms.
These words acknowledged the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecies of the prophet Isaiah. “Through You I will make a Covenant with all peoples; through You I will bring Light to the nations” (Is. 42:6, 49:6, 52:10). This explains the blessing and procession of candles that normally takes place on this day. The candles are blessed and then lit, and a procession takes place into the church while the Canticle of Simeon is sung. Because of this, the feast also known as Candlemas. (Note: In the Catholic Church, there are two feasts during which we celebrate the LIGHT. The emphasis at each feast is different. At EASTER, when we carry the Easter Candle, we proclaim THE LIGHT OF CHRIST (Lumen Christi!), but at the PRESENTATION OF THE LORD, we proclaim CHRIST THE LIGHT (Christus Lux). Jesus himself is the actual light of the world!) After the celebration, the faithful are encouraged to keep the candles in their homes as a sign of Christ ‘the light of the world’ and an expression of faith.
- A MEMORIAL OF MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS
- a) Today is referred to as the “Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Of course, Mary, our Lady, did not need this purification because she was a virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus. She us the THEOTOKOS – the mother of God. But she underwent it in order to fulfill the Law.
In the days of the birth of Jesus, the Jewish custom commanded that a woman who gave birth to a son remain in semi-seclusion for 40 days. Counting from December 25th as the first day, the fortieth day fell on February 2nd, which is today’s date. The Book of Leviticus tells us, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the people of Israel, saying: If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven (7) days: as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three (33) days; she shall not touch any holy things, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed” (Lev. 12:1-4).
“When the days of her purification are completed, (7 + 33 = 40) whether for a son or for a daughter, the mother shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. He shall offer it before the Lord, and make atonement on her behalf; then she shall be clean from her flow of blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, male or female. If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean” (Lev. 12:6-8 and Exo. 13:11-13; 22:29; Numb. 18:15-16; Deut. 15:19).
- b) Mary’s Obedience: The Presentation of the Lord to the Temple was executed IN OBEDIENCE with the precept of the Law. For it was written, “’Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’” As required by the Law, Mary and Joseph offered the sacrifice of ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons’” (Lk. 2:22-24; Lev 12:6-8). Mary redeemed her first-born from the Temple and she was purified by her strict observance of the Law and by the prayer of Simeon the righteous in the presence of the prophetess Anna (Lk. 2:22-36).
The act of obedience to the Law God by Mary and Joseph bears fruit in the life of the child, Jesus, as he grows up in submissive and obedient to his parents. How many of our parents, today, done bother or care about keeping any “law”, worse still, God’s Law. Yet, they lament that their children are insubordinate!
Mary and Joseph went to the temple together, to fulfil what the Law of God required. They were always together and in one accord in everything that they did. How many parents do appear TOGETHER in church at the preparation for, or baptism of their children? Very often, it is left to the effort and pain of one parent (the mother of the child(ren)). It is very sad indeed!
- c) Mary’s and Joseph’s poverty: Those who sought purification at the temple for the birth of their first child had a choice of what animal to offer. That choice depended on the wealth of the candidate or her family. “If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean” (Lev 123:8). Now, the gospel of Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph brought two birds. This is a clear sign that they could not afford a Lamb or Sheep. They were not ashamed of their poverty, but happily offered what they could afford to the Lord. They did not try to compare with their richer neighbours or try to “catch up with the Joneses”. Many couples a known to have ruined their finances because they cannot hold back from spending beyond their means. Many and Joseph offer the ideal here.
- d) One of Mary’s Sorrows: “This Child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.'” (Lk 2:34-5). In other words, Jesus would be the cause of division within families, some accepting Him, others rejecting Him. (These words constitute the 1st of the 7 Sorrows of Mary.) Simeon did not only proclaim that he had seen his salvation, but also told the Mother of our Lord that her share would include a sorrow pierced heart. Simeon foretold the suffering that would precede the victory of the Light over darkness.
In Redemptoris Mater — On the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life of the Pilgrim Church (No.16), Pope John Paul II wrote that Mary heard in Simeon’s words something akin to a second Annunciation, “for they tell her of the actual historical situation in which the Son is to accomplish his mission, namely, in misunderstanding and sorrow. While this announcement on the one hand confirms her faith in the accomplishment of the divine promises of salvation, on the other hand it also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Savior, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.” The tiny child snuggled in the manger, a few weeks ago, is now revealed to be a sign of contradiction. His gentle, obedient, mother faces a future of sorrow.
- FEAST FOR THOSE IN CONSECRATED LIFE
In church practice, certain elements taken from the Gospel account of today, the (Lk 2, 22-40), such as the obedience of Joseph and Mary to the Law of the Lord, the poverty of the holy spouses, the virginity of Our Lady, mark out 2nd February as a special feast for those at the service of the brethren in the various forms of consecrated life. Popular piety sees in the rite of purification the humility of Our Lady this feast has long been regarded as a feast for those in humble service.
CONCLUSION: Jesus is the fulfillment of all our longings and hopes also. Like Simeon, we can take Jesus not only in our arms close to our heart, but into our hearts as we contemplate his words to us and receive him at Holy Communion, “For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Lk. 2:30).
NB: THE SEVEN SORROW OF MARY, OUR LADY
- The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)
- The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
- Loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2:41-50)
- Mary meets Jesus on his way to Calvary (Luke 23:27-31; John 19:17)
- Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (John 19:25-30)
- The body of Jesus being taken from the Cross (Psalm 130; Luke 23:50-54; John 19:31-37)
- The burial of Jesus (Isaiah 53:8; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; Mark 15:40-47)
That is a lot for one woman to endure in a lifetime!