Dear Friends in Christ,
Christmas was forty days ago this Friday, and that is why 2 February is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. According to Chapter 12 of Leviticus, every Jewish woman who gave birth required a ritual purification from her flow of blood, and a sacrifice was to be offered to mark the new mother’s return to the regular practice of prayer, commonly forty days after her child’s birth. St. Luke tells us in Chapter 2 of his Gospel that Joseph and Mary went to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill this precept of the Law, and there they encountered two faithful children of Israel who were always there in prayer, awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. Simeon and Anna stand for all who will accept Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior and acclaim him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.” Simeon also foretells the share that Mary will have in the suffering of her Son, and so the mysteries of Christ’s birth and death are joined together in the Temple – the dwelling place of God on earth and the privileged place of sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Thus is the New Covenant hidden in the Old and the Old Covenant revealed in the New. And the place where the Old Covenant is fulfilled and the New Covenant is begun is none other than the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church.
Also on the Feast of the Presentation, candles are blessed for use at the altar because Christ is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles,” and from the connection between the Presentation and the blessing of candles, this feast in the sacred liturgy is also called Candlemas – an alternate title for this celebration which began in Jerusalem in the fourth century, making it one of the most ancient feasts in the Christian liturgy. On this day we pray that the brightness of the candles we use in divine worship will awaken in our hearts love for the uncreated brilliance of Christ’s perpetual light so that all people will see the unbounded light of His glory reflected in the holiness of His Church. All of these dimensions of today’s great feast are gathered together every time we pray the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary.
Finally, in 1997 Saint Pope John Paul the Great began a yearly Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life which he attached to the Feast of the Presentation. Christian men and women who profess the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience are, through living in the most radical way the dignity of their Baptism, imitating both the holy witnesses of Israel – Simeon and Anna – and following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who placed her entire life at the service of the Lord and His holy Word. We are blessed at St. Mary’s to have the splendid witness of the Nashville Dominican Sisters, who remind us of the need of all Christians to surrender our entire lives in the obedience of faith to Christ the Lord. And each Wednesday afternoon during the Holy Hour, we pray for vocations for the priesthood and the consecrated life, asking the Lord of mercies to call young men and women from this parish to give themselves without reservation or compromise to the proclamation of the Gospel.