|Two Secrets to Recognizing Christ When You Meet Him.
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
Lessons from the proper, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Malachi 3: 1-4.
• Psalm 24: 7-10.
• Hebrews 2: 14-18.
• Luke 2: 22-40 or 22-32.
The Second Class Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Malachi 3: 1-4.
• Psalm 47: 10-11, 9.
• Luke 2: 22-32.
The Solemn Holy Day of the Encounter of Our Lord, God & Savior, Jesus Christ, with Simeon & Anna; and, Cheesefare Tuesday.
Lessons from the menaion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Hebrews 7: 7-17.
• Luke 2: 22-40.
9:48 AM 2/2/2016 — The Presentation of the Lord is another example of a feast that came to us from the Christian East, and it's in considering its eastern origins that we can grasp its true meaning. From Apostolic times until today, it's known in the East as the Feast of the Meeting, or more properly the Feast of the Encounter of our Blessed Lord with Simeon and Anna. It wasn't observed in the West until the sixth century, where the focus of it shifted away from our Lord's encounter with the two prophets to a more pious but theologically questionable devotion to the idea of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Book of Leviticus lays down the rules by which mothers are to be purified after birth based on the Semitic notions of the impurities of women who give birth, which wouldn't have applied to our Blessed Mother because of the miraculous nature of the conception and birth of Her Son; and, by the early middle ages, Catholics were observing this custom as well. The rite involved the mother holding a candle, so the Church just decided to pretend that that's what this feast was really all about, which is when the blessing of candles became part of it, and it came to be referred to in English speaking countries as Candlemas Day. That was all corrected after the last ecumenical council, but the blessing of candles is still included in the Missal for this day for those places where that has come to be expected.
But we can see from the origins of this feast, as well as the Gospel lesson read to us, that the real focus of this feast is not the Mother of God, nor the fact that our Blessed Lord is brought to the Temple, but whom He meets there. He's brought there by his parents because of the command the Lord gave to Moses in Exodus 13: “Dedicate to me every first-born thing that Israel yields, whether it be man or beast, the first-fruits of every womb; all these are forfeit to me” (v. 2 Knox). God, in Leviticus, even specifies what kind of sacrifice must be made on this occasion:
When the days needed for her purification, after the birth of boy or girl, have run out, she must bring a lamb of one year old as a burnt-sacrifice, and a young pigeon or a turtle-dove by way of amends, to the tabernacle door. These she will hand over to the priest, who will offer them to the Lord and intercede for her, to win purification for her after the blood-losing. Such is the rule governing the birth of boy or girl. If she cannot lay her hand on a lamb fit to be offered, she must bring two turtle-doves or two young pigeons, one as a burnt-sacrifice and one by way of amends; these will suffice, and at the priest’s intercession she will be purified (12: 6-8 Knox).
Saint Luke doesn't quote these verses precisely, probably because he's doing it from memory; but, the reflection for us here should be how diligently Mary and Joseph obeyed all these laws, even though there was no compelling reason for them to do so. Regarding the sacrifice, the Holy Family takes the economic option, substituting two birds for the lamb and the bird, and if I were really clever I could offer some sort of reflection on that; but, the point is they obey the law nonetheless.
But then comes the meat of the whole thing: the meeting or encounter of our Blessed Lord with the two prophets: two unrelated people who may not even have known each other, both of them advanced in years, both of them choosing to spend their last days in the Temple giving themselves over to prayer. The prophecies of Simeon and Anna, both recognizing the Christ Child as God, raise an interesting question: how did they know that there was anything special about this Child? God's incarnation was total: there was nothing in His outward appearance that made this little Boy stand out. Our Blessed Lord was not walking around with a glowing halo over his head like a holy card, or have the word “messiah” tattooed on his forehead. Their lives of prayer and penance must have given them a special insight in grace to be particularly attuned to divine things, and their recognition of Him reminds us of our need to constantly be on the watch for the manifestations of Christ among us—among our friends, our families, our trials and tribulations, and all the circumstances we have every day to encounter our Lord in places where we least expect him. And what an important reflection for us that can be as the season of Lent approaches: so often people in confession will complain that they're in a dark place, that they don't feel their prayers are being answered, that they don't feel the presence of God in their lives; but, the example of these two elderly prophets points to the fact that this kind of consolation is the result of fasting and prayer and complete abandonment to the will of God.
Our Gospel lesson today ends with Saint Luke telling us:
And now, when all had been done that the law of the Lord required, they returned to Galilee, and to their own town of Nazareth. And so the child grew and came to his strength, full of wisdom; and the grace of God rested upon him (2: 39-40 Knox).
So, the two secrets—if you want to call them that—to feeling and being attuned to the presence of God around us are obedience to His holy Will in how we live our lives, and giving ourselves over to prayer and penance. And, if we can do these things, then, when the course of our lives has run out, we will be able to pray along with Simeon, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation …” (Luke 2: 29-31 NABRE).