The Presentation  of Jesus/
Purification of the Virgin Mary/
Candlemas
(All Celebrated 2 February,
Forty 40 Days after Christmas)

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Presentation in the Temple - by Gerbrand van den EECKHOUT -  from the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest . . .

 

Luke 2:22-40

When the day came to purify them according to the Law of Moses, the couple brought Jesus up to Jerusalem so that He could be presented to the Lord, for it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every first-born male shall be consecrated to the Lord". They came to offer in sacrifice "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons", in accord with the dictate in the Law of the Lord.

There lived in Jerusalem at the time a certain man named Simeon. He was just and pious, and awaited the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not experience death until he had seen the Anointed of the Lord. He came to the Temple now, inspired by the Spirit; and when the parents brought in the Child Jesus to perform for him the customary ritual of the law, he took Him in his arms and blessed God in these words:

"Now, Master, You can dismiss Your servant in peace; You have fulfilled Your word. For my eyes have witnessed Your saving deed displayed for all the peoples to see: A revealing light to the Gentiles, the glory of Your people Israel".

The Child's father and mother were marveling at what was being said about Him. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother: "This Child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed -- and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword -- so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare".

There was also a certain Prophetess, Anna by name, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She had seen many days, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She was constantly in the Temple, worshiping day and night in fasting and prayer. Coming on the scene at this moment, she gave thanks to God and talked about the Child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.

When the pair had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee and their own town of Nazareth. The Child grew in size and strength, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.

 

The Presentation of the Lord

by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.

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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:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "Gift giving" at Christmas and

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "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 Personal Sins.

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

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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.

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Typical Mikvah
 

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. (Leviticus 12:2-8)

Forty (40) Days after the Birth of Christ, Mary Complied with this Precept of the Law, she Redeemed 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).

 

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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.

 

sheen.gif (6584 bytes) 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 Sin.

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 Fulfilled.

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 from Sin.

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 Child.

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 Grief.

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 mother.

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 Honest; Prostitutes, 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. crucifixion2_sm.jpg (12431 bytes) 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 His Crucifixion.

After saying that He was a Sign to be Contradicted, Simeon turned to the Mother, adding:

And you too shall be Pierced to the Heart. [Luke 2:35]

mary_sorrow.jpg (21704 bytes) 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.

 

CANDLEMAS

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 Transcending Death.

vela-c2.gif (2466 bytes) 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 Christian Message.

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/Groundhog Day

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.