The Presentation of the Lord
Wednesday February 2, 2022
Fourth Week of Ordinary Time
by Fr. David M. Knight
The Christmas season is over. Lent has not begun. In this feast we look backward to Christmas and forward to Lent. The Blessing of the Candles begins: “Forty days ago we celebrated the joyful feast of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we recall the holy day on which he was presented in the temple.”
This feast has four names and a long history. It was first observed in the Eastern Church as “The Encounter.” In the Western Church it became known as “The Purification of Mary,” but in the 1970 reform of the liturgy after Vatican II the focus was restored to the “Presentation of the Lord.” It is also popularly known as “Candlemas” because we bless candles for a procession into the church that images Christ’s entrance into the temple — and into the world as Light of Life. Before Rome began celebrating Christmas on December 25, this feast was celebrated on February 14 and the “forty days” were counted from the feast of the Epiphany.
All of these names contribute to the meaning of this feast.
The “Purification” points us toward the penitential season of Lent.
“Candlemas” reminds us that our purification reaches fullness only if we “walk in the path of goodness” — and freedom — by the “light of faith.” We look ahead: “May we who carry these candles… come with joy to the light of glory.”
“The Encounter” (linked to Epiphany in the blessing prayer) identifies the Light with Jesus: “God our Father, source of all light, today you revealed to Simeon your Light of revelation to the nations.” Our purification began when we encountered Jesus. It continues every time we encounter him more deeply.
The Encounter was made possible because God the Son “became man for us” in his Incarnation, and “was presented in the temple” to be revealed to the world (Opening Prayer). He invited us in response to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 6:13; 12:1) together with him who “offered himself as a lamb without blemish for the life of the world (Prayer over the Gifts). This we did at Baptism, giving ourselves up with Christ and in Christ on the cross as he did for the Church, “in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the Church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:26-27). This feast, with its procession, reminds us that we are a “pilgrim Church,” ever moving toward greater light and love. In the Prayer after Communion we ask that encountering Jesus in Eucharist will “perfect your grace in us and prepare us to meet Christ when he comes.”
In this feast we celebrate the Presentation of Light offered to us in an Encounter with Jesus that leads to our Purification and the redemption of the world.
“A Refiner’s Fire.…”
Malachi 3:1-4, like many passages in the Old Testament, makes encounter with the Lord sound scary: “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?”
The reason is that God purifies: “He is like a refiner’s fire…. He will purify the descendants of Levi, refining them like gold or silver.”
But we need to look to the end. With everything God does there is always a happy ending: “Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD.” We can’t help thinking of what that offering was actually going to be: ”a lamb without blemish for the life of the world.” Or, in the literal translation of the first Eucharistic Prayer, “a victim that is pure, a victim that is holy, a victim that is immaculate, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.” What we have in Eucharist is worth the price of purification!
In Luke 2:22-40 we automatically assume that Simeon was an old man, because the Holy Spirit had promised him he “would not experience death before he had seen the Anointed of the Lord.” But that doesn’t follow: he could have been twenty years old! Whether he was, or whether he was eighty-four like Anna, the point is that life is not complete — for any of us — until we have met Jesus Christ. And the sooner we encounter him the better. But we need to encounter him personally, with personal faith, real hope and active love. Until we do, we cannot really “experience” either life or death in any authentic way. If Jesus is not the “main attraction” in our living and our dying, neither one can be basically satisfying, much less “filled with joy” (see Psalm 126; John 10:10; Galatians 5:22). Simeon said, “Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace… for my eyes have seen your salvation.” If we are not deeply in peace, even in the midst of suffering and stress, our eyes have not seen, and our ears have not heard the Good News. In the last analysis, what more do we need in this life besides the assurance that we are in union with God “in Christ” and in present possession of everything we need to make us happy for all eternity?
The Light of Peace
Hebrews 2:14-18 tells us stress is an experience of slavery. We do forced labor — at home, in our jobs, just as citizens sometimes — out of “fear of death.” Fear of what we will lose. (Jesus said that if we are afraid to give up our lives, or anything in them, we have already lost them: Matthew 16:25). Fear that our lives will have counted for nothing in the end. (Jesus guaranteed that if we work for him our lives will “bear fruit, fruit that will last”: John 15:16). What we need to be purified of is fear! If we meet Jesus, the Light of the world, he promises: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).
Initiative: Think about the Bible. Can you meet Jesus there? Find freedom? Do it!
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry