The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is celebrated each year on February 2. It commemorates the events recorded in Luke’s Gospel:
When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons. (Lk 2:22-24).
In remembrance of the Passover, the defining moment in the history of Israel, when God redeemed His people from slavery by slaying the first-born male of man and beast in the land of Egypt, the Jewish law required that the firstborn male child should be ‘redeemed’, consecrated to the Lord, by offering sacrifice in the Temple forty days after birth (cf. Exod. 13:2; Lev. 12:6-8). In faithful obedience to the Law, our Lady and St. Joseph took Jesus to the temple of Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.
Present in the Temple at the Lord’s presentation are the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna. Simeon is described as ‘an upright and devout men’ who ‘looked forward to Israel’s comforting’ (Lk 2:25). When the child Jesus is brought to the Temple, he takes the child in his arms and blesses God:
‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’ (Lk 2:29-32
In this Canticle of praise, which has becomes enshrined in the Church’s daily prayer, Simeon is inspired to recognize the Child as the long-awaited Messiah and prophesies about Him. In proclaiming Christ to be ‘a light to the Gentiles’, Simeon anticipates Christ’s own revelation of Himself as ‘the light of the world’ (Jn 8:12). Accordingly, by the eleventh century, the custom had developed in the West of blessing candles on the Feast of the Presentation. The candles were lit, and a procession took place through the darkened church while the Canticle of Simeon was sung. Because of this, the feast also became known as ‘Candlemas’. The blessing of candles and procession remain part of the ritual of the Feast, as we pray that ‘we who carry these candles in your Church may come with joy to the light of glory.’
Hearing these words of Simeon, we are told that Joseph and Mary ‘marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed”.’ (Lk 2:33-35). Reflecting on these words, Pope Benedict XVI noted that the words of Simeon to our Lady reveal “that her role in the history of salvation did not end in the mystery of the Incarnation but was completed in loving and sorrowful participation in the death and Resurrection of her Son. Bringing her Son to Jerusalem, the Virgin Mother offered him to God as a true Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. She held him out to Simeon and Anna as the proclamation of redemption; she presented him to all as a light for a safe journey on the path of truth and love.”
Mary’s ‘way’ of presenting Christ to the world as the source of ‘truth and love’ is to be followed by all Christians. In particular, it is the way of those men and women who have consecrated their lives to Christ in religious profession. By their profession, consecrated men and women proclaim that Christ is their everything – their light and salvation. The Feast of the Presentation therefore has special significance to Religious and is celebrated each year as the World Day of Consecrated Life. In his address to Religious on the Feast of the Presentation in 2006, our holy Father Pope Benedict acknowledged the connection between Christ’s consecration to the Father’s mission and the consecration of religious to the mission of the Church. “Just as Jesus' life in his obedience and dedication to the Father is a living parable of the ‘God-with-us’, so the concrete dedication of consecrated persons to God and to their brethren becomes an eloquent sign for today’s world of the presence of God’s Kingdom.”
Let us therefore celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord with devotion, and make our lives, like lighted candles, always and everywhere shine with the love of Christ.