This Sunday is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. It is not always celebrated on Sunday, but this year February 2, the day of the Feast, falls on Sunday.
In former days, sometimes the Feast of the Presentation was considered the last day of the Christmas Season (imagine Christmas for 40 days!) In Rome, the large Christmas Nativity Scene in St. Peter’s Square is removed after the Feast of the Presentation, perhaps a vestige of the older practice of a longer Christmas Season.
I remember when I first began to pray the Rosary (remember not until I became Catholic in College), I would reflect upon the 4th Joyful Mystery which is this Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple. I would think about the joy of Simeon the Priest offering Jesus to the Lord and the joy we have now when at Mass the Priest offers Jesus’ One Sacrifice to God for our salvation.
As I was reading the Gospel again for this Feast in preparation for this Sunday, I suddenly realized that nowhere does the Gospel of Luke say that Simeon was a priest in the Temple. Doing a little reseasch, a typical commentary states: "It is possible that Simeon was a Levitical priest, and it was to him that Mary gave the.... redemption offering, and who then pronounced the blessing upon Jesus that Luke records here."
It is not Simeon’s priesthood or not that is important to the Church on this Feast day, but rather the priesthood of Jesus, for the Second Reading from the Book of Hebrews says; "He had to become like his brothers in every way [except sin], that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest before God to expiate the sins of the people." (Hebrews 2:17).
I can relate to that. Every experience I have ever had, especially every problem and suffering, has only made me more in touch with the problems and sufferings of others. My family has also had a great many problems over the years. I think sometimes people think only very holy and "problem free" families produce priests. Not in my experience!
This Sunday’s Gospel also stirs my fascination with ‘sacred geography" (The Presentation takes place in Jerusalem and we could think about what Jerusalem represents; see what I wrote about this HERE) and my interest with architecture (the Presentation takes place in the Jewish Temple and we could think about what the Temple represents).
But this is a Festival of Light. The hymn of Simeon is recited or sung at every Compline (Night Prayer):
"Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen
the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen." (See Luke 2:29-32)
What got associated with this Feast most was the theme of light. It is Christ Jesus who is brought to the Temple, the Son of God made flesh, the Son of God who is "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God." (From the Nicene Creed)
On this Feast in the fifth century there were processions with lighted lamps to honor Christ our Light. Then later in time, the candles used in the Church’s worship were blessed on this day and the Feast got the name Candlemas. I am inspired also by this blessing which may be given--not just over candles, but over us--on the Presentation Feast:
Almighty and everlasting God:
On this day your only-begotten Son was presented in the Temple
to be received into the arms of blessed Simeon; we humbly pray you
to bless, hallow, and kindle with the light of your heavenly benediction
these candles which your servants desire to receive and to carry, lighted in honor of your holy Name. By offering them to you, our Lord and God, may we be inflamed with the fire of your love,
and made worthy to be presented in the heavenly temple of your glory;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one, now and for ever. Amen.