Monday, February 2, 2009
Feast of the Presentation
For forty days after a new mother gave birth she was ritually "unclean" and then would need to enter the temple with an offering for her purification. This Feast has had several names, but is now know as the Presentation of the Lord for Mary took her son to present him in the temple according to the law. We are also told of the meeting with Simeon and Anna. The feast began in the 4th century; in the Middle Ages, the feast was called Candlemas and we still bless the candles on this day.
My mother always kept blessed candles in the house and would light them when there was a storm. I never seem to think of that now, but remember feeling so safe in the house as soon as my mother lit the candles.
The Gospel for today begins: "When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord... It is forty days since we celebrated the birth of Jesus and he goes to the temple for the first time; later Jesus will identify himself with the temple: he is God's dwelling place among people. Let us follow Mary as she and Joseph go into the temple...
"Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying, 'Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.'"
Simeon was attentive to the Holy Spirit and so was in the temple when Jesus was brought there by his parents. Such faith though to see immediately in this tiny infant the salvation of all! Now he is ready to die. In the longer version of the Gospel we have the prophecy of Simeon who tells Mary that this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted -"and you yourself a sword will pierce-so that the thoughts of many heart may be revealed."
Anna, advanced in years and a widow who never left the temple, came forward and gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. Then, the Holy Family, having "fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth."
The Preface for the feast says: "Father, all powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Today your Son, who shares your eternal splendor, was presented in the temple, and revealed by the Spirit as the glory of Israel and the light of all peoples.
Our hearts are joyful, for we have seen your salvation, and now with the angels and saints we praise you for ever."
I wonder what Mary and Joseph thought as they left the temple and started their journey home. I hope their hearts were joyful but Mary would be reflecting on the words of Simeon and would ponder them in her heart.