Saturday, February 2, 2013

Candlemass - the Presentation of the Lord

The chapel of trhe Presentation of the Lord 
at our Lady's Shrine in Lourdes, France.

Today is forty days after the birth of Jesus, and our Mass rounds off the Christmas/ Epiphany season. In the readings and prayers we look back to the birth of the Lord, and forward to his suffering and death. 

The Gospel reading (Luke 2:22-39) tells of Mary and Joseph going to the temple with the baby Jesus, that they might be purified “according to the Law,” and Jesus consecrated to the Lord. The old man Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, discerns Jesus to be God’s Messiah, “the light to enlighten the nations”. It is for this reason that the blessing and lighting of candles has long been associated with this day.

In Anglo-Saxon times it was “. . . appointed in the ecclesiastical observances that we on this day bear our lights to church and let them be there blessed; and that we should go afterwards with the light among Godʼs houses and sing the hymn that is thereto appointed. Though some men cannot sing they can, nevertheless, bear the light in their hands; for on this day was Christ, the true light, borne to the temple, Who redeemed us from darkness and bringeth us to the eternal light.” - The Ritual Reason Why, by C. Walker (1886) page 197.

In the midst of today’s joyful festival, we hear old Simeon’s enigmatic remark to our Lady - “a sword shall pierce your own soul, too” -, reminding us of her participation in all that Jesus suffered for our redemption.

Greek Orthodox Christians call today’s feast “Hypapante” (the encounter), seeing in the juxtaposition of the Child and the old man the encounter of the fading age of the Old Covenant and the new era of Jesus and his Church. 

There is more than a touch of irony in the fact that the poor, if they couldn’t afford a lamb to offer in sacrifice and thanksgiving, could bring turtle doves or even pigeons. Mary and Joseph were poor, and although - according to today’s Gospel reading - they brought turtle doves or pigeons, we know that they actually brought the only Lamb that has ever really mattered: Jesus, Mary’s little Lamb, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. 

Old Simeon calls Jesus “a light to enlighten the Gentiles.” That’s why this day was made into a feast of candles, with the warmth of their light pointing to that greater light which radiates from Jesus. 

We are given a candle today as a reminder that having received the light of Christ, which at the beginning of creation pierced the darkness and which no darkness, no blindness, can overcome, we are to shine in the darkness of our own time that others may come to know him and be set free to walk in the light.


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