Today’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a feast that reflects the one light of Christ from different angles and in different ways. Historically the feast has been known by different names, each stressing a different aspect of the same mystery: the mystery that God has chosen to dwell among us.
Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem to present him at the Temple. This was the first time Jesus entered the temple that years later he would cleanse of merchants with great zeal. The same temple where he would teach his disciples and challenge the Pharisees. The same temple where Judas would receive thirty silver coins in return for his betrayal.
Mary and Joseph presented Jesus with grateful hearts and offered the sacrifice prescribed by the Law of Moses for the poor: two young pigeons. God fulfills the prophecy of Malachi when Simeon identifies the child as the awaited Messiah. Simeon’s words at first are joyful and triumphant, “the child is a light for revelation, the glory of Israel,” but then he turns to the Blessed Mother and his tone becomes somber speaking of suffering and sacrifice: “this child will be contradicted and a sword will pierce your heart.”
This feast invites us to celebrate with Simeon that all prophecy has been fulfilled, while at the same time, it invites us to remember that Jesus was born to die as a sacrifice for our sins.
For centuries this feast was known as the Purification of the Virgin Mary, an event we also commemorate today. When a Jewish person had direct contact with blood, the person became unclean and he or she had to undergo religious rites to be purified. Recall the Parable of the Good Samaritan where the priests did not help the dying man for fear of touching blood and becoming impure.
When women give birth, obviously they have contact with blood. The Book of Leviticus prescribed that forty days after giving birth a woman had to be ritually cleansed. Today, forty days after Christmas Day, we commemorate that the Blessed Mother faithfully followed the Law of Moses and was purified. She who was conceived pure, without the stain of sin, obediently offered the called for sacrifice of two pigeons.
This feast invites us to ponder how the Blessed Mother faithfully followed the Law of Moses and went to the Temple with her son to be purified.
Today’s feast has also been called Candlemass throughout the centuries, a celebration of light (or candles). Traditionally candles are blessed on this day, followed by a procession in a darkened church, reminding us of Simeon’s words, that the child born on Christmas day is the “light of the nations.”
This feast invites to recognize Jesus as the light that has come into the darkness to destroy sin and death.
As if this feast didn’t have enough layers, there is one more. Today half of the Catholic world celebrates the feast of Our Lady of the Candle, La Candelaria, who appeared in Spain and devotion to her spread throughout Spain’s colonies in the new world; devotion to her, remains strong in all Latin America, in particular in my home country of Peru.
The one light of Christ is reflected from different angles and in different ways today. The light that shines forth from the mystery that God has chosen to dwell among us cannot be contained. All is renewed, all is transformed, all things are different because God has become man.
The joy of knowing the Messiah, the sorrow of recognizing he will be sacrificed, the blessedness of his mother and his perpetual light that dispels the darkness; all converge on this feast forty days after his birth.
The Church never ceases to proclaim the mystery that God has become man.
The Church never ceases to proclaim that our God who created all things has emptied himself to become like one of his creatures.
As a candle offers itself as a sacrifice to give us pure light, ceasing to exist as its wax melts away, slowly and selflessly dying as it shines for others to have light, so too Our Savior is a light that offers itself in sacrifice so that others may have life.
Candles always accompany the altar of sacrifice, burning themselves to death as a sacrifice, reminding us of the One who died so that we could have life.
May the Lord help us to be candles of his light, dying to our selves, so that the light of Christ may shine brightly in us.
Picture: Dome of the Rock, site of the Temple of Jerusalem, Jerusalem (2006)
Pictures are mine, all rights reserved.