By Francis Fernandez
The feast was first observed in the Eastern Church as “The Encounter”. In the sixth century, it began to be observed in the West: in Rome, with a more penitential character, and in Gaul (France) with solemn blessings and processions of candles, popularly known as “Candlemas”. The presentation of the Lord concludes the celebration of the Nativity and, with the offerings of the Virgin Mother and the prophecy of Simeon, the events now point towards Easter.
6/15.1 Mary offers Jesus to the Father.
And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
Jesus arrives at the Temple in the arms of his mother Mary. According to the Jewish law, the first-born male had to be presented to the Lord forty days after his birth. Due to the action of the Holy Spirit in their souls, Simeon and Anna are the only people who recognize the Messiah in this ordinary infant. In today’s Responsorial psalm the Church recalls how the Jewish people celebrated the entrance of the Ark of the Covenant. O gates, lift up your heads; grow higher, ancient doors. Let him enter, the king of glory!
There were two precepts of the ancient law concerning the birth of first-born sons. According to Leviticus, a woman who bore a child was unclean. The period of legal impurity ended, in the case of a mother of a male child, after forty days, with a rite of purification. With regard to first-born sons, it is written in the Book of Exodus: The Lord said to Moses, ‘Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine’. This offering was a living memorial to how the Lord had delivered the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. Every first-born male, then, belonged to God and had to be set apart for the Lord, that is, dedicated to the service of God. However, once divine worship was reserved to the tribe of Levi, first-born who did not belong to that tribe were not dedicated to God’s service, and to show that they continued to be God’s special property, a rite of redemption was performed. The Law laid down that the Israelites should offer in sacrifice some lesser victim as a symbolic form of ransom.
Our Lady prepared her soul to present the Son of God to the Father and to offer herself to Him. In doing this she renewed her fiat, her be it done unto me, and once again put her whole life at the disposition of the Lord. Jesus was presented to the Father in the hands of Mary. This was a very special offering at the Temple which would never be repeated. More than thirty years later, Jesus would make the supreme offering of himself outside the city on Calvary.
Today’s feast is an open invitation for us to renew our dedication to the Lord. We should offer him our entire being, our thoughts, our works, everything we are, everything we do.
We can make this offering in many different ways. Today we might make our own this moving prayer of Saint Alphonsus Liguori: Today, Oh my queen, I also, in imitation of thee wish to offer my poor heart to God... Offer me as thine to the eternal Father and to Jesus, and pray him that through the merits of his Son, and by thy favour, he may accept me, and take me for his own.
6/15.2 To illuminate reality by the light of the Cross.
Mary and Joseph arrived at the Temple ready to fulfil the precepts of the Law. Because they had no money, they were obliged to offer up the ransom of the poor, that being a pair of turtle-doves. It is at this juncture that they meet Simeon, a righteous and devout man, who was looking for the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him what remained hidden to almost everyone else. Simeon took the Child into his arms and blessed God, saying: Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.
Saint Bernard wrote a sermon for this feast in which he refers to the long-standing tradition of mounting a procession of candles in church. Today the Virgin Mary brought to the Temple the Lord of the Temple. Joseph presents to God his adopted son, the Beloved One. Anna the widow joins in with words of thanksgiving. These four people performed the first procession, a joyful procession which will be continued throughout time in every corner of the earth.
The procession of candles in today’s liturgy symbolizes how the life of each Christian should give light to others. Christ is the Light of the world. ‘Light’ as a word is frequently used to signify life and truth. The absence of light suggests solitude, doubt and error. Christ is the Life of the world and every person, the Light that shows the way, the Truth that saves, the Love that fulfils... When we carry a burning candle in today’s procession, we are taking part in the light of Christ.
And his father and his mother marvelled at what was said about him. Mary listened to the prophecy of Simeon with the same recollection that she listened to the words of Saint Gabriel and the shepherds. The Child which she held in her arms was the Light sent by God the Father, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel. From the moment of our baptism, our participation in the mission of Christ depends a great deal upon our personal generosity. We have to learn how to give ourselves, to burn before God like the light placed on a lampstand to give light to those who walk in darkness; like the sanctuary lamps that burn by the altar, giving off light till their last drop is consumed. Is this our disposition towards the Lord? Are we giving ourselves without conditions, without limitations? Lord, my life is for You. I do not want it if it does not bring me closer to You.
Saint Bernard reminds us that it is prohibited to come before the Lord with empty hands. Since we normally have only little things to offer him, let us pray about the poor value of Mary’s offering to the Lord, those two turtle-doves. Learn to join your poor offerings to those of Christ. Join your prayers with his prayers, your tears with his tears, your fasts with his fasts. In this way you will take something of little value and give it an infinite worth. One drop of water by itself is nothing more than one drop of water. One drop of water poured into a cask of wine becomes something of greater value. This is the way it is with our human labours. By themselves they are of small value. Yet when they are joined with the labours of Christ they acquire an inestimable worth.
6/15.3 Jesus Christ, sign of contradiction.
Simeon blessed the parents and then said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against – and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed’.
Jesus brings salvation to all people. Nevertheless, for some he is a sign that is spoken against or a sign of contradiction. The times in which we are living provide particularly strong confirmation of the truth of what Simeon said: Jesus is both the light that shines for mankind and at the same time a sign of contradiction... Jesus Christ is once again revealing himself to men as the light of the world. Has he not also become at one and the same time that sign which, more than ever, men are resolved to oppose? No one can treat Christ with indifference. We ask him to be our Light and our Hope.
The Evangelist takes care to note that Simeon addressed to Mary a message of warning. This warning establishes a link between the future of both the mother and the Son. And a sword will pierce through your own soul. With the old man’s words in mind we too turn our gaze from the Son to the Mother, from Jesus to Mary. The mystery of this bond which unites her with Christ, the Christ who is a ‘sign of contradiction’ is truly amazing.
At the Presentation, Mary learns that her destiny is intimately united to that of her Son. The sword which Simeon speaks of is Mary’s painful participation in the sufferings of her Son. The Lord suffered on the Cross for our sins. It is our sins which cause the sufferings of Mary. Therefore, we have a duty to atone not only to God but also to his Mother, who is our Mother too.
Francis Fernandez Carvajalwas born in Granada in 1938. A graduate in History from the University of Navarre, he also hold a doctorate in Canon Law from the Angelicum in Rome. He is a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature. Since his ordination in 1964, much of his pastoral ministry has been with university students. For more than ten years he was editor of he montly magazine PALABRA. Among hi published works are an Anthology of texts (with more than 6000 quotations from spiritual writers throught the ages), Lukewarmness- the Devil in Disguise, and Commentaries on the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke
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