Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Apologies for the blog-gap. Our blogger has been on the road.

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. At the end of the fourth century, a woman named Etheria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her journal, discovered in 1887, gives an unprecedented glimpse of liturgical life there. Among the celebrations she describes is the Epiphany (January 6), the observance of Christ’s birth, and the gala procession in honour of his Presentation in the Temple 40 days later—February 15. (Under the Mosaic Law, a woman was ritually “unclean” for 40 days after childbirth, when she was to present herself to the priests and offer sacrifice—her “purification.” Contact with anyone who had brushed against mystery—birth or death—excluded a person from Jewish worship.) This feast emphasizes Jesus’ first appearance in the Temple more than Mary’s purification.
The observance spread throughout the Western Church in the fifth and sixth centuries. Because the Church in the West celebrated Jesus’ birth on December 25, the Presentation was moved to February 2, 40 days after Christmas.
St Luke in his Gospel gives us an extraordinary account of the encounter between the Holy Family and Simeon, the man of prayer who has longed to see the Messiah …
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
and you yourself a sword will pierce
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favour of God was upon him.
Luke 2:22-40

In Luke’s account, Jesus was welcomed in the temple by two elderly people, Simeon and the widow Anna. They embody Israel in their patient expectation; they acknowledge the infant Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Early references to the Roman feast dub it the feast of St. Simeon, the old man who burst into a song of joy which the Church still sings at day’s end.
In 1997, Pope John Paul II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd. This Feast is also known as Candlemas Day; the day on which candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect light of Jesus Christ to all peoples. The celebration of World Day for Consecrated Life is transferred to the following Sunday in order to highlight the gift of consecrated persons for the whole Church.

“Christ himself says, ‘I am the light of the world.’ And we are the light, we ourselves, if we receive it from him.... But how do we receive it, how do we make it shine? ...[T]he candle tells us: by burning, and being consumed in the burning. A spark of fire, a ray of love, an inevitable immolation are celebrated over that pure, straight candle, as, pouring forth its gift of light, it exhausts itself in silent sacrifice” (Paul VI).

Prayer for Consecrated Persons:

God our Father, we thank you for calling men and women to serve in your Son’s Kingdom as sisters, brothers, religious priests, consecrated virgins, hermits, as well as members of Secular Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life. Renew their knowledge and love of you, and send your Holy Spirit to help them respond generously and courageously to your will. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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