The Presentation of the Lord
by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.
Presentation of Christ in the Temple -
by GENTILE DA FABRIANO,
from the Musée du Louvre, Paris
Today we celebrate the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem,
a Feast occurring Forty (40) Days after
Christmas. It concludes the Christmas Cycle
in the Liturgical Year. As with Christmas and
Epiphany, it carries the Theme of Light
Shining in the Darkness and the Entrance of God's Presence among
His People . . . Symbolized by Jerusalem's Temple.
Our Gospel Account is from Saint Luke and it concludes Luke's Infancy Account of the
Birth of Jesus and His
Entrance into our Human Life and History.
At this point, Forty (40) Days after
Christmas, we turn now to Prepare for the Forty (40) Days of
Lent. The Two (2) Seasons, as you all
recognize I'm sure, urge upon us the Practice and Attitude of Giving:
"Gift giving" at Christmas and
"Alms giving" during Lent.
The Giving of a Present is in Reality the
Giving of your own Personal Presence to another. In Giving a
Present to someone, you make yourself Present to them in a Symbol of Closeness, Friendship and
Intimacy. It is, therefore, much more than simply a Costly Bauble or a Lovely Work of Art of some sort. In the
Present is your Presence to the one you are close to. The Presentation
of Christ in the Temple by Mary
and Joseph carries with it something that is more than simply the Fulfillment of the
Mosaic Law. It is, in Reality, God's Present to us,
the giving of His Presence to us in Jesus Christ.
And God does this out of Pure Love for us,
not because we Merited it or Earned it,
not because it is Owed to us, but because it is
God's Free Gift to us in order to overcome our Separation from
Him, a Separation we caused because of our
Sins against Him and His Love.
Presently we are about to enter the Season of Lent. Here again
Holy Mother Church brings the Notion of Self-gift to
our attention, this time through Self-Sacrifice, Caring for others, and
Almsgiving. The idea is not to simply Toss a Few Dollars toward the Poor and then be done with them.
Certainly that was not the idea at Christmas. We don't give Presents simply to Discharge
our Duty, or Relieve ourselves of some Self-imposed Obligation, or Quiet our Ego by returning
something back of Equal Value. Such notions Falsify the Meaning of Giving. Both at
Christmas, and now, our Mother the Church asks everything of us,
Total Gift, Complete Love, Self-Donation, the Giving
of our Presence to others who Need and Want us to be with them.
Our Lenten Practices of Prayer,
Penance and Almsgiving are Rooted in the Notion
that we are Estranged from God and from others.
Sin is another word for Separation,
Alienation and Estrangement. It means we are
Torn Away from each other and are distant from each other. We feel Out of Touch with what Really Matters in Life, Out of Touch with our
Faith, and Distant from God.
Our Lives with others and our Lives of Prayer have within them Awkward Silences.
We don't know what to say to others or to God. Our Prayers
have been replaced by Silence. Or knowing exactly what to say, we are nevertheless afraid to say them. Somehow the Re-establishment of
Personal Presence is desperately needed in order to make our Love-relationships and Friendship with
God and with others, Whole and Wholesome once again.
Almsgiving, Penance and
Prayer attack the Root Causes of our Estrangement
and Isolation on Two (2) different fronts.
First, they allow us to respond to God
our Father Who comes to us in His Christ. Along with
Simeon in the Temple we can take Him into our arms and exult that
the Long, Terrible Darkness of Estrangement is over.
Secondly, the Practice of Almsgiving
can assist us in overcoming the feeling that we are out-of-touch with the World around us. It allows us to stand next to our Brothers and Sisters
on this Planet who have been the most Victimized by Human
Sin and Alienation. To experience Hunger
during Lent, for instance, allows us to identify with the
Hungry. To cut back on our Spending, and Simplify our Lives allows us to stand with those who have nothing to spend. To
Pray brings us closer to those who depend upon our Heavenly
Father to care for them in their Needs.
All of our Lenten Practices allow us to be present to
Christ, Who Himself in His own
Poverty became Present to us in our Needs. The only thing
that Stands in the Way, of course, is the Difficulty of overcoming our
Pride that we might admit our Needs, our
Spiritual Impoverishment, and Confess the Radical Cause of all of our
Estrangement and Alienations, namely our own
You and I need to do Penance; we need to
Fast and to Abstain in order to become Personally Present again to
God and those around us. That is the Gift God
offers us on this Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. For in
Christmas, Epiphany and the
Presentation, God comes to us in His
Power, Presence and Essence
so that Right Order may be Restored in our Lives, so that our
Estrangement might be Ended, and in order that His Powerful and
Life-Giving Holy Spirit may be Let-loose in
our Lives here on Earth.
May God be ever praised for giving us this Grace, this Gift in His Temple today.
The Purification of Mary
Southern Temple Wall
In Ancient Judea, a Person had to be in a State of Ritual Purity in order to enter into the Temple Area. If a person had become Ritually
Impure, he/she was required to undergo a Ritual Immersion in Water -
t'vilah in Hebrew. The Apostle Paul, and early Jewish Christians, participated in this Ritual
(compare Acts 21:23-26; 24:18).
Archeologists have discovered almost Fifty (50) Ritual Baths called
Mikva'ot - in the excavations around the Southern Wall of the Temple Precincts.
The Jewish Ritual of Purification by Immersion, the Mikvah, is undoubtedly a
Foreshadowing of Baptism. In Ancient Judaism a Cleansed-Leper, a woman
after her Menstrual-Period, and a Ceremonially-Defiled Person, and a Gentile-Convert to Judaism, had to undergo the
Mikvah and be Immersed in Water, prior to being declared '
Pure' and able to enter the Temple, or re-enter Society.
According to the Mosaic Law, a mother who had given birth to a Man-child was considered Unclean for
Seven (7) Days; moreover, she was to remain Three and Thirty (33) Days
"in the blood of her purification"; for a Maid-child, the time which excluded the mother
from Sanctuary was even Doubled. When the time (Forty
(40) or Eighty (80) Days) was over, the mother was to
"bring to the Temple a Lamb for a Holocaust and a young Pigeon or Turtle Dove for Sin";
if she was not able to offer a Lamb, she was to take Two (2) Turtle Doves or
Two (2) Pigeons; the Priest Prayed for her and so she was Cleansed.
Forty (40) Days after the Birth of Christ,
Mary Complied with this Precept of the Law,
her First-born from the Temple (Numbers 18:15), and was
Purified by the Prayer of Simeon the Just, in the Presence of
Anna the Prophetess (Luke 2:22).
by Saint Alphonsus Liguori . . . Although Mary was not bound by the Law of Purification, since she was always a Virgin
and always Pure, yet her Humility and Obedience made her wish to go like other mothers to purify herself.
On the Presentation in the Temple
by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
At Bethlehem He had been an
"Exile"; at the Circumcision,
an "Anticipated Savior"; now at the Presentation,
He became a "Sign to be Contradicted". As
Jesus was Circumcised, so
Mary was Purified, though He needed not
the First because He was
God, and she needed not the
Second because she was Conceived without
Then, after their Purification had been completed in accordance with the
Law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present
Him to the Lord [as prescribed in the
Law of the Lord]. [Luke 2:22]
The fact of Sin in Human Nature is underlined not only by the necessity
of Enduring Pain to Expiate for it in Circumcision,
but also by the Need for Purification. Ever since Israel had been
delivered from the Bondage of the Egyptians, after the First-Born of the
Egyptians had been Slain, the First-Born of
the Jews had always been looked upon as one Dedicated to God.
Forty (40) Days after His Birth, which was the
Appointed Time for a Male Child according to the Law,
Jesus was brought to the Temple. Exodus decreed that the
First-Born belonged to God. In the Book of Numbers, the Tribe
of Levi was set apart for the Priestly Function, and this Priestly Dedication was understood as a Substitute for
the Sacrifice of the First-Born, a Rite which was never
practiced. But when the Divine Child was taken to the Temple by
Mary, the Law of the Consecration of the First-Born was Observed in its Fullness;
for this Child's Dedication to the Father was
Absolute, and would lead Him to the Cross.
We find here another Instance of how God, in the Form of Man, shared the
Poverty of Mankind. The Traditional Offerings for
Purification were a Lamb and a Turtle Dove, if the Parents were Rich, and Two (2)
Doves or Two (2) Pigeons, if they were
Poor. Thus the mother who brought the Lamb of
God into the World had no Lamb to offer ------ except the Lamb of God.
God was presented in the Temple at the Age of Forty (40)
Days. About Thirty (30) Years later
He would Claim the Temple and use it as the Symbol of His Body in which
dwelt the Fullness of Divinity. Here it was not the
First-Born of Mary alone Who was
Presented, but the First-Born of the Eternal Father.
As the Only Begotten of the Father,
He was now Presented as the First-Born of a
Restored Humanity. A 'New Race' began in Him.
The Character of the Man in the Temple whose name was Simeon and who received the
Child, is described simply as:
This man was Upright and Devout, one who Watched and Waited for the Restoration of Israel, and
the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been disclosed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see Death until he had seen the Lord's
Messiah. [Luke 2:25-26]
His words seem to imply that as soon as one sees Christ, the
Sting of Death departs. The old man, taking the Child in his arms,
exclaimed with joy:
This day, Master, Thou givest Thy servant his Discharge in Peace; now Thy Promise is
For I have seen with my own eyes the Deliverance which Thou had Made Ready in Full View of all
the Nations: a Light that will be a Revelation to the Heathen, and Glory to Thy people Israel. [Luke 2:29-33]
Simeon was like a Sentinel whom God had sent to Watch for
the Light. When the Light finally appeared,
he was ready to Sing his Nunc Dimittis. In a poor Child,
brought by Poor People making a Poor Offering, Simeon discovered the Riches of the World. As this old man held the
Child in his arms, he was not like the Aged of whom Horace speaks.
He did not look-back, but forward, and not only to the Future of his own People, but to the Future of all the
Gentiles, of all the Tribes and Nations of the Earth. An old man at the
Sunset of his own Life, spoke of the Sunrise
of the World; in the Evening of Life, he told of the Promise of a New Day. He had seen the Messiah
before by Faith; now his eyes could close, for there was nothing more Beautiful to
look upon. Some flowers open only in the evening. What he had seen now was "Salvation"
----- not Salvation from Poverty, but Salvation
Simeon's Hymn was an Act of Adoration. There are
Three (3) Acts of Adoration described in the
Early Life of the Divine Child.
The Shepherds Adored;
Simeon, and Anna the Prophetess, Adored;
and the Heathen Magi Adored.
The Song of Simeon was like a Sunset in which a Shadow heralds a
Substance. It was the First Hymn by Men in the Life of Christ
. Simeon, though addressing Mary and
Joseph, did not address the Child. It would not have been
fitting to give his Blessing to the Son of the Highest. He
Blessed them; but he did not Bless the
After his Hymn of Praise, he addressed himself only to the mother;
Simeon knew that she, and not
Joseph, was Related to the Babe in his arms. He saw furthermore that there
were Sorrows in store for her, not
for Joseph. Simeon said:
This Child is destined to be a Sign which Men Reject; and you too shall be Pierced to the
Heart. Many in Israel will Stand or Fall because of Him. [Luke 2:34]
It was as if the Whole History of the Divine Child were Passing before the
Eyes of the Old Man. Every Detail of that Prophecy was to be Fulfilled within the Lifetime of the
Babe. Here was a Hard Fact of the Cross, affirmed even before the Tiny Arms
of the Babe could stretch themselves out straight enough to make the form of a
Cross. The Child would Create
Terrible Strife between Good and
Evil, Stripping the Masks from each, thus provoking a Terrible Hatred.
He would be at once a Stumbling Block, a Sword that would divide
Evil from Good, and a 'Touchstone' that would Reveal the Motives
and Dispositions of Human Hearts. Men would no longer be the same, once they had heard
His Name and learned of His Life. They would
be Compelled either to Accept Him, or
Reject Him. About Him there would be no
such thing as Compromise: only Acceptance or
Rejection, Resurrection or Death.
He would, by His very Nature, make Men reveal
their Secret Attitudes toward God. His Mission
would be not to put Souls on Trial, but
to Redeem Them; and yet, because their Souls
were Sinful, some Men would Detest His Coming.
It would henceforth be His Fate to encounter
Fanatical Opposition from Mankind even unto Death Itself, and this would
involve Mary in Cruel Distress. The
Angel had told her,
"Blessed art thou among women", and Simeon was now telling
her that in her
Blessedness she would be the Mater
Dolorosa. One of the Penalties of Original
Sin was that a woman should bring forth her child in Sorrow;
Simeon was saying that she would continue to live in the
Sorrow of her Child.
If He was to be the Man of
Sorrows, she would be the
Mother of Sorrows. An Unsuffering
Madonna to the Suffering Christ
would be a Loveless Madonna. Since Christ
Loved Mankind so much that He wanted to
Die to Expiate its Guilt, then He
would also Will that His
mother should be wrapped in the Swaddling Bands of His own
From the moment she heard Simeon's words,
she would never again lift the Child's Hands without seeing a Shadow of
Nails on Them; every
Sunset would be a Blood-red Image of His Passion.
Simeon was throwing away the Sheath that hid the Future from Human Eyes,
and letting the Blade of the World's Sorrow Flash in front of
her Eyes. Every Pulse that she
would Feel in the Tiny Wrist would be like an Echo of an Oncoming Hammer. If He was Dedicated
to Salvation through Suffering, so was
she. No sooner was this Young Life launched than Simeon, like an Old Mariner,
talked of Shipwreck. No Cup of the Father's
Bitterness had yet come to the Lips of the Babe,
and yet a Sword was shown to His
The nearer Christ comes to a Heart,
the more it becomes Conscious of its Guilt; it will then either ask for
His Mercy and find Peace, or else it will
Turn Against Him because it is not yet ready to give up its
Sinfulness. Thus He will Separate the
Good from the Bad, the Wheat from the Chaff.
Man's Reaction to this Divine Presence will be the Test:
either it will Call-out all the Opposition of Egotistic Natures, or else
Galvanize them into a Regeneration and a Resurrection.
Simeon was practically calling Him the
"Divine Disturber", Who would Provoke
Human Hearts either to Good or
Evil. Once Confronted with Him, they must
Subscribe to Light or Darkness. Before everyone
else they can be "Broadminded"; but His Presence
Reveals their Hearts to be either Fertile Ground
or Hard Rock. He cannot come to
Hearts without Clarifying them and Dividing them; once in His Presence, a
Heart discovers both its own Thoughts about Goodness
and its own Thoughts about God.
This could never be so if He were just a Humanitarian Teacher.
Simeon knew this well, and he told Our Lord's
mother that her Son must
Suffer because His Life would be so much
Opposed to the Complacent Maxims by which most Men Govern their Lives.
He would Act on One Soul in One-way, and on Another in Another-way, as
the Sun shines-on-wax and 'Softens' it, and shines-on-mud and 'Hardens' it. There is no
Difference in the Sun, only in the Objects on which it shines. As the
Light of the World, He would be a
Joy to the Good and the Lovers of Light;
but He would be like a Probing Searchlight to those who were
Evil and Preferred to Live in Darkness. The Seed is the same, but
the Soil is Different, and each Soil will be Judged by the way it Reacts to the Seed. The Will of
Christ to Save is limited by the Free
Reaction of each Soul, either to Accept or
Reject. That was what Simeon meant by saying:
The Secret Thoughts of many will be Laid Bare. [Luke 2:35]
An Eastern Fable tells of a Magic Mirror that remained Clear when the Good
looked upon it, and became Sullied when the Impure gazed at it. Thus the owner could always
tell the Character of those who used it. Simeon was telling His
mother that her
Son would be like this Mirror: Men would either Love or
Hate Him, according to their own
Reflections. A Light falling on a Sensitive Photographic Plate registers a Chemical Change that cannot be Effaced. Simeon
was saying that the Light of this Babe,
falling-on Jew and Gentile, would Stamp on each the Ineffaceable Vestige of its Presence.
Simeon also said that the Babe would disclose the True Inner
Dispositions of Men. He would Test the Thoughts of
all who were to encounter Him. Pilate would Temporize and then
Weaken; Herod would Mock;
Judas would Lean-to a kind of Greedy Social Security; Nicodemus would Sneak in Darkness to find the
Light; Tax Collectors would become
Pure; Rich Young Men would Reject His
Poverty; Prodigals would Return Home; Peter would Repent;
an Apostle would Hang himself. From that day to this, He
continues to be a Sign to be Contradicted. It was fitting, therefore, that
He should Die on a Piece of Wood in which
One (1) Bar Contradicted the
Other. The Vertical Bar of God's Will is
Negated by the Horizontal Bar of the Contradicting Human
Will. As the Circumcision pointed to the Shedding
of Blood, so the Purification foretold
After saying that He was a Sign to be
Simeon turned to the Mother, adding:
And you too shall be Pierced to the Heart. [Luke 2:35]
She was told that He would be
Rejected by the World, and with His Crucifixion
there would be her Transfixion. As the Child Willed the
Cross for Himself, so He
Willed the Sword of Sorrow for her. If
He chose to be a Man of Sorrows,
He also Chose her to be a
Mother of Sorrows! God does not always Spare the
Good from Grief. The
Father Spared not the Son, and the Son
spared not the mother. With His
Passion there must be her Compassion.
An Unsuffering Christ Who did not Freely Pay the Debt of
Human Guilt would be Reduced to the Level of an Ethical Guide; and a
mother who did not Share in His
Sufferings would be Unworthy of her Great Role.
Simeon not only Unsheathed a Sword; he also told
her where Providence had Destined it to be
Driven. Later on, the Child would say, "I came to bring the
Sword". Simeon told her that
she would feel it in her Heart
while her Son was hanging on the
Sign of Contradiction and she was standing
beneath it, Transfixed in Grief. The Spear that would Physically Pierce
His Heart would Mystically be run into
her own Heart.
The Encounter Between Chaos and Light
by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
In everyday Modern Life we are hardly aware that on February 2nd we celebrate
an Ancient Feast, common to the Church of both
East and West, which used to have a Great Significance in the Rural Calendar: Candlemas.
Tributaries from many Historical Sources have flowed together into this Feast, with the
result that it Sparkles with many Colors. Its Immediate Reference is to the event when Mary
and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple in
Jerusalem, Forty (40) Days after His Birth,
to Perform the Prescribed Sacrifice of Purification.
The Liturgy focuses mainly on One (1)
detail of Luke's Portrayal: the meeting between the Child Jesus and the aged
Simeon. Thus in the Greek-speaking World the Feast was called HYPAPANTI (the Encounter).
In this Juxtaposition, the Church sees the Encounter between the
Passing Heathen World and the New Beginning in Christ, between the Fading Age of
the Old Covenant and the New Era of the Church of all Nations.
What this expresses is more than the Eternal Recurrence of Death and Becoming;
it is more than the Consoling Thought that the Passing of one Generation is always Succeeded by a New one with New Ideas and Hopes. If that
were all, this Child would not Represent a Hope for
Simeon, but only for Himself. But it is more: it is
Hope for Everyone, because it is a Hope
This brings us to a Second Aspect of this day which the
Liturgy Illuminates. It takes up the words of Simeon when
he calls this Child "a Light to Enlighten the Gentiles".
Accordingly this day was made into a Feast of Candles. The warm Candlelight is meant to be a
Tangible Reminder of that Greater Light which, for and beyond all time, Radiates from the
Figure of Jesus. In Rome this Candlelit Procession supplanted a Rowdy,
Desolate Carnival, the so-called Amburbale, which had survived from
Paganism, right into Christian Times. The
Pagan Procession had Magical Features: it was supposed to effect the
Purification of the City and the Repelling of Evil Powers. To remind people of
this, the Christian Procession was originally celebrated in Black Vestments and then in
Purple -- until the Council's Liturgical Reform. Thus the element of Encounter, again, was evident in this Procession: the
Pagan World's Wild Cry for Purification,
Liberation, Deliverance from Dark Powers,
meets the "Light to Enlighten the Gentiles", the Mild and Humble
Light of Jesus Christ. The Failing (and yet still Active) Aeon of a Foul,
Chaotic, Enslaved and
Enslaving World Encounters the Purifying Power of the
It reminds me of something the Playwright Eugene Ionesco wrote. As the inventor of the Theatre of the Absurd,
he Articulated the Cry of an Absurd World and was increasingly aware that it was a Cry for God.
"History", he said recently, "is a Process of Corruption,
it is Chaotic, unless it is Oriented to the Supernatural". The Candle-lit Procession in Black Garments, the Symbolic Encounter
between Chaos and Light which it represents,
should remind us of this Truth and give us Courage
to see the Supernatural, not as a Waste of Time,
distracting us from the Business of Ameliorating the World, but as the only way in which Meaning
can be brought to bear on the Chaotic Side of Life.
Candlemas was originally a Celtic Festival celebrating the fact that the days were getting longer
and Spring was not far off. The Church expanded this Festival of Light to Commemorate the Purification of the Virgin
Mary and her Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple. Since the traditional Candlemas Celebration
anticipated the Planting of Crops, a Central Focus of the Festivities was the Forecasting of either an early Spring or a lingering Winter.
Sunshine on Candlemas was said to indicate the return of Winter. Similarly, "When the wind’s in the East on Candlemas Day
/ There it will stick till the second of May". A Bear brought the Forecast to the people of France and England,
while those in Germany looked to a Badger for a sign. In the 1800s, German immigrants to Pennsylvania brought their
Candlemas legends with them. Finding no Badgers, but lots of Groundhogs, or Woodchucks, there, they adapted the New
World species to fit the Lore.