February 2, 2017
As of this writing, we are coming up on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, on Thursday, February 2. So when you are reading this it will have already have passed. Still, it is worth mentioning some things about this very ancient feast.
The reference in the Bible comes from Luke’s Gospel. There is an old priest in the temple waiting for the answer to a promise. And all at once he sees them – a couple coming carrying a baby!
Simeon the priest received a prophecy many years prior that he would not see death until he saw the Messiah. With great joy, Simeon takes the boy and starts to sing:
“Now that I’ve held him in my arms, my life can come to an end. Let your servant now depart in peace. I’ve seen your salvation; he’s the light of the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
That canticle is called “Simeon’s Song” or in Latin, the Nunc Dimittis. It is prayed each night at Compline in the Liturgy of the Hours right before bed. We pray for a restful night and a peaceful death. Most of us don’t practice this, but it is practiced by monks, nuns, and priests each evening. Lay people can also partake in the Liturgy of the Hours each day. I do as a Benedictine Oblate.
At the conclusion of the story, Simeon prophesies to Mary, “Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34–35)
This feast comes 40 days after Christmas, stated in Jewish law that a baby must be dedicated with an offering of two pigeons (costing about six shekels) 40 days after its birth. This sacrifice is the offering of the child to God. Mary and Joseph carried out this tradition in bringing the baby Jesus to the temple for this ritual.
This feast is important enough that it is one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, and in the Mass of the Day calls for a recitation of the Creed and the singing of the Gloria. The priest wears white instead of green, the color of Ordinary Time.
There is another name for this feast in the West, “Candlemas Day”. In ancient times, and even to this day in some places, it is the day that all the candles are brought to the village church to be blessed for the year. In my parish in Indianapolis, they practiced this tradition and still do. On Candlemas, all the candles used in the church for the year are blessed at Mass that day.
As the songwriter Michael Card wrote, “Now’s the time to hold him in your arms; your life will never come to an end. He’s the only way that you’ll find peace. He’ll bring you salvation, cause he’s the light of the gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel.”
May you find peace in the child Christ Jesus.