One of my favorite feasts in recent years has been today’s, the Presentation of Our Lord. I’m not exactly sure why that is the case, but it is. Perhaps it’s something about the feast’s alternative, traditional title: Candlemas. On this day, the Holy Family traveled to the temple for purification 40 days after the birth of Christ. The presentation of the Light of the World in the temple calls likewise for the our presentation in the current-day temple, the Church Thus today, traditionally, the symbolic and sacramental practice of the blessing of candles – our own personal lights to the world – takes place. Though I haven’t had the chance to attend the older form of the Mass on this Feast, and due to ice on the roads likely won’t again today, I have had daydreams about a darkened church filled to the brim with lighted candles while Holy Mass is offered. I’m sure it would be a very moving presentation.
As I’ve begun to point out above, the symbolism for Candlemas is very rich. I learned last year at St. Thomas More Society that the Presentation can also be seen as the unofficial end to the celebration of Christmas and the beginning of the transition to the Lenten and Easter seasons. The presentation of Jesus in the temple, His parents’ offering of Himself to God the Father (done implicitly on their part, for the Trinity had not yet been revealed), foreshadows Christ’s own offering of his life which would be completed on the Cross. The psalms and readings from Matins and the Mass today evoke this imagery of the purification of the cross, as well as the royal imagery fitting to Christ the suffering King. The first reading from Mass, from Malachi, emphasizes the purifying aspect of this feast, both the Holy Family’s purification and the whole people of Israel’s eventual purification flowing from the Cross:
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord.
The psalm for Mass is the end of number 24, the entry of the king of glory into the temple. The psalms from Matins echo this kingly imagery: psalms 2, 19, and 45 all refer to Christ’s kingship and mankind’s response to that kingship (rebellious in Psalm 2, marriage in Psalm 45).
So, today in the Church’s life we begin the definitive transition towards Lent and Easter, though Ash Wednesday is five weeks away this year. On this feast, let us offer ourselves to the Father as Jesus offered Himself, so that our own “light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” may shine to all the Simeons of the world.