We celebrate today the Feast of the Presentation or traditionally called “Candlemas” or “Candle Mass.” This is an ancient feast in the Roman Catholic Church dating back to as far back as 312 with some historical homilies by bishops. This feast falls 40 days after Christmas and commemorates the Purification of Mary in the temple in Jerusalem following the mandate of the Law of Moses in the Book of Leviticus (Leviticus 12:2-8). According to this Mosaic Law, any woman who had given birth to her first-born son is considered impure, and would have to go through a process of ritual purification. Consequently, the Child Jesus was also presented to the temple to be consecrated to God according to the same Law. Candle Mass was originally a celebration of the blessing of candles. These candles were blessed and were reserved for the use of the Church in its different liturgical celebrations throughout the year. In the liturgy, we still have the part of Simple or Solemn procession and blessing of the candles. After Vatican II, the emphasis was refocused on the feast of the Presentation itself. It traditionally became the day when Religious renew their vows as a symbol of renewing their religious consecration. This year the Catholic Church will celebrate the World Day of Consecrated Life on February 7th.
This feast presents to us many points for personal reflection. There are many things which come to my mind and among these are the following:
A lesson on poverty: This feast recalls to mind how Mary and Joseph were really poor. They offered to God what was prescribed in the Law as the offering of poor people: turtle doves. Sometimes we may be tempted to think that the Holy Family’s poverty was a pious tradition to exalt the virtue of poverty to those who were born poor in this world. Or to pacify the restless hearts of peasants during the middle ages by the backing of religion. But this Gospel event proves to us that they were materially poor in the true sense of the word. It is so consoling to think that material possessions are not always a badge of God’s favor and the lack of them is not a sign of God’s disfavor.
We are all consecrated: By virtue of our baptism, we are consecrated to God. We are set apart to do a particular mission in life to bring about the Kingdom. Consecration is lived out in many ways. Religious are consecrated by a certain ritual in the Church which sets them aside for a particular ministry following a particular charism, within a particular Religious Order. Ordained Priests are consecrated to be God’s ministers of Word and Sacraments for the life of one’s soul. A baptized Christian in the world is consecrated to be a leaven, a salt of the earth, to make present the presence of God in the market-places of the world. No one is exempted. We just do not exist, we live for a purpose. The Presentation of the Child Jesus was a statement of this truth.
God lives in His temple and because of that we ought to give the House of God the respect it deserves. The drama of Mary’s purification, Jesus’ consecration, the prophecy made by Simeon and the love of the prophetess Anna, all demonstrate to us how holy the temple or Church is. In our Catholic Churches is present, day and night, the Son of God, Lord of Heaven and earth, who chose to remain in that little piece of bread we call the Eucharist so that He can be with us always. And yet, for one reason or other, we take it for granted. We need to recapture the reverence and awe we once had for the House of God. Everyone of us can cite examples of how people can be so disrespectful of God’s temple.
The sword piercing Mary’s heart was a prophecy of the Cross. Along with the joy of having given birth to God, the joy was lined with sorrow because the prophecy foretells rejection, hate and death. Isn’t this a consequence of following Jesus, of discipleship? The Cross is never far away from those who truly follow God. That is one reason why people are afraid to follow Christ, “it is difficult, too complicated” many would say. It entails dying: to self, selfish desires, life of sin.
As we celebrate this feast of the Presentation, let us again be mindful of these truths and ponder the insights which God reveals to those who seek Him. “And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek (Malachi 3:1-4). “Are you not aware that you are God’s temple?” Let us enter in, into the temple of our soul. Let us remain in silence before the Lord our God. Nothing is needed for this journey except the desire to be united with Him. The language he hears best is the silent language of love.