Posted by: fvbcdm | February 2, 2012

Feast of the Presentation (2 Feb 2012)

On Thursday of this week, the Church celebrates the fourth joyful mystery of the Rosary, which has been called by several names in the history of our liturgy.  Let’s be aware that it commemorates the event that occurred when Our Lord Jesus was just forty days old. According to the law of Moses, a young couple who had been blessed with their first son had the obligation of taking him to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. Just as the first-fruits of the various harvests—wheat, oats, barley, grapes, figs, etc.—were offered to God in thanksgiving for divine bounty, so also the precious gift of human life was seen as requiring a gift of thanksgiving to God for the new human life to the family.  A lamb or a kid goat or a bushel of grapes or sheaf of wheat was brought to the temple and left there as gift to God and the priests and Levites.  But you can’t leave a newborn baby in the temple, and no decent people would want to give up their firstborn son, so a substitution was provided by God.  Those who could afford to do so, brought a lamb to be offered in place of the baby.  Those who could not afford a lamb brought a pair of doves.  Because they were poor, Our Lady and Saint Joseph brought doves.  So we speak of this feast as the Presentation of the Infant Christ to God.  


It has also been called the feast of the Purification, because of the Jewish thinking on the subject of human blood.  When a woman gives birth, her blood is shed to some degree. And this effusion of her blood caused her to need purification, which was part of the thinking behind this religious ritual.  Why?  Was blood seen to be dirty?  On the contrary, it was seen as sacred, and not to be mingled with ordinary activities.  Just as those who handled the sacred books of the law were said to “soil the hands” so that their hands had to be washed after that and before being used for ordinary tasks, so a woman who had given birth had to be purified of her own blood.  So in addition to being called the feast of the Presentation, this feast has been called the feast of the Purification of Our Lady.


And then, when the holy old man Simeon in the temple took the child into his arms, he rejoiced to see the newborn savior and prophesied that this baby would be a “light for revelation to the Gentiles,” meaning that Jesus would be the means by which the non-Jewish world would come to see what God is like.  Because of this notion of Jesus being light, for many centuries the Church has blessed candles on this day, both for sacred use and for secular purposes.  So the day has been called “Candlemas” Day—the day when the Mass was celebrated in honor of the infant Christ who is the Light of the nations and for the blessing of a new supply of candles for temple as well as home.  


We can focus upon this beautiful feast as Presentation of the Savior, Purification of his Blessed Mother, or the day of Candles symbolizing our newborn Lord. Or we can put them all together and enjoy the opportunity to meditate upon these several meanings of what happened when Our Divine Lord was just six weeks old.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.


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