Today’s feast marks the Presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Temple, forty days after he was born. The Lord truly did enter suddenly and in an unexpected way into His Temple. (Malachi) In our tradition this day is also called the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well as Candlemas.
As the firstborn, Jesus belonged to God. According to the Law, Mary and Joseph were required to take him to the Temple and “redeem” him by either paying five shekels, as it says in the Book of Numbers, or according to Leviticus, the poor could make a sacrifice of two pigeons or turtle doves.
So the feast we celebrate shows a curious turn of events. The Redeemer is redeemed. She, who is all-pure, presents herself to be purified. Such is the humility of our God. Such is the humility of the Blessed Virgin. They submit to the Law even though they are not bound by it.
Reflection upon this scene
Let us reflect upon the scene as it happened that day in the Temple.
An ordinary couple entered, as did many others before them and after, to do what the Law required. Most likely they were virtually unnoticed, except by Simeon and Anna. These two faithful elders, while most were oblivious to what was happening, represent the faithful remnant of Israel. They were there to receive the Lord of glory when he entered His Temple.
Mary and Joseph, the virginal married couple, represent the New Israel, the Church, those who were to be redeemed by this little baby.
St Luke is at pains to present both male and female counterparts, to present the universal need for salvation; the universal need for redemption from the darkness of human sinfulness. This child will take away the power of the devil (Epistle of today).
Along with salvation will come suffering, most especially for the Saviour and His Mother, but for all who commit their lives to Him. And here, a special mention must be made of St Joseph, who is a silent member of this holy foursome.
It was the task of the father to “redeem” the first born, so it was Joseph who presented Jesus to the priests in the Temple for this holy rite. This underlines that Joseph, while not the biological father, holds legal, and therefore, real fatherhood for Jesus. His is the key masculine presence in Christ’s life. (see “Redemptoris Custos of John Paul II §12-13)
It is both Joseph and Mary who stand “there wondering at the things that were being said” about their son. We can ponder fruitfully about the effect upon Joseph as hears that his beloved wife would suffer a sword piercing her soul. He probably wanted to protect her from that as any husband would want to protect his wife.
Today is also the worldwide day of prayer for consecrated life; for those women and men who choose a life lived in radical conformity to Christ. They renounce the good of marriage. They choose a life not centred on material possessions. They vow to do as God wishes.
Religious men and women are a constant call to all the Church, including the ordained, that all of us are called, not just to be good, but to be holy. These men and women live a lifestyle here on earth that only makes sense in the light of heaven, and so they remind us all that heaven is our homeland, our destination. But we can only enter it if we become holy.
One of the three theological virtues, keys to holiness, is the virtue of hope.
The Presentation of the Lord is a call to hope. Simeon and Anna lived many long years hoping for the Saviour. Their hope made them able to distinguish this one baby boy from all the other children as the Messiah, the Lord God of Israel. Mary and Joseph knew that the hope of Israel had been fulfilled.
May hope grow strong in us. It won’t unless we begin to imitate in our lives, as we are able to, the qualities of consecrated life, namely, not looking for the mere satisfactions of this life or this world; chastity of thought, word and deed; and an obedient heart and will.
May holy Simeon and holy Anna support us. May St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary pray for us.