There is much to celebrate and observe on the occasion of the Feast of the Presentation. First, in keeping with the requirements of the Law of Moses, the Holy Family presented their first born son, Jesus, at the Jerusalem Temple as an offering to God (“Set apart for me the first boy in every family.”) (Exodus 13:2.) And again, in keeping with the Law of Moses, “they offered a sacrifice…a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”(Luke 2:2.) This Feast, known as the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, is part of our liturgy today. Second, it is also the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Again, in keeping with Jewish practice, mothers went to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after the birth of a child to thank God and pray for both the health of that child and for the observance of their purification; which was deemed to be accomplished 40 day after a birth. Since there are 40 days between December 25th and February 2nd, we observe this feast today; the Sunday nearest that date. Thirdly, and perhaps most in keeping with our Christian spiritual ascetic, the Feast of the Presentation (also known as Candlemas) celebrates Christ coming into the world to be the light of the world; and as the Messiah, the agent of our salvation.
St. Luke (Chapter 2:22-40) provides the account of this significant event in the early life of Jesus and the Holy Family, who encountered at the Temple two Holy Spirit inspired prophets, Simeon and Anna. The former is described as righteous and devout; and that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Upon seeing Jesus and the Holy Family, led by the Holy Spirit, he took the child in his arms, and praised God saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for the revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Similarly Anna “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” The Early Church liturgically celebrated this unique multi-themed feast starting in the fourth century, and there are references to sermons at those liturgical celebrations by noteworthy Early Church Fathers, as well as an entry by the famous pilgrim Egeria in her diary. In other words, these events were already deeply woven into the fabric of the liturgy of the Early Church, and Christian communities recognized their significance and importance as part of the sacred trust of our faith. Therefore, what do we, as a consequence of this liturgical history and tradition, derive for ourselves and the life our parish communities? The over-arching and powerful image of light comes crashing through; the light of Christ, and our witnessing to and sharing of that light. As the custodians of that sacred trust, it comes through in our liturgies and worship life. It comes through in our ministries and missions. In other words, this feast of purification and light, reflects our light collectively as the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, in an otherwise darkened and fallen world. And like the Spirit-led prophets Simeon and Anna, we are, individually and together, called to be conduits and reflectors of that light. May our celebration of them serve as both a rekindling and expansion of that light.