Friday, February 02, 2007

Notes on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, a commemoration of the pilgrimage that Mary and Joseph made to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after the birth of Jesus to consecrate their child to God in accordance with Jewish custom (Lk 2:22-40). Celebrated at least as early as the fourth century, today's feast also honors Mary in that her visit to the Temple was an act of ritual purification following childbirth. For this reason, the Feast of the Presentation is also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin. A veritable feast of many names, this celebration is also known as Candlemas on account of the blessing of candles that often occurs today. In the Christian East, this feast is sometimes called that of the Meeting of the Lord, placing special emphasis on the encounter between Jesus and the devout elders Simeon and Anna, who recognized the month-old infant as the Messiah they had long hoped for.

Simeon and Anna are at the heart of today's feast, and in reflecting upon their encounter with Jesus we can place ourselves with him in the Temple. St. Ignatius asks us to do exactly this during the second week of the Spiritual Exercises, offering a contemplation on the Presentation with points devoted to both Simeon and Anna. When I made the Long Retreat as a novice, I recall that Simeon and Anna struck me as the kind of individuals you may encounter in any parish. In some sense, Simeon and Anna were extraordinary people - Luke tells us that Simeon was "righteous and devout, and the Holy Spirit was upon him," while Anna was recognized as a prophetess and furthermore "never left the Temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer." Reflecting on Luke's description of these two, I inevitably think of some of the older people I've encountered over the years in different parishes I've been a part of. The people I'm thinking of are strong in their faith yet hopeful of greater things to come, devoted to the Church and to the particular church communities they've chosen to be a part of. You've probably met men and women like Simeon and Anna - like their counterparts in the Gospel, they go to church every day to pray and to bear prophetic witness to Christ's presence in the world. On this Feast of the Presentation, may we thankful for all those who, like Simeon and Anna, offer us a good example of the joy with which we should greet the God who has so graciously come among us. AMDG.


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