Feast of the Presentation of our Lord
Also celebrated as World Day for Consecrated Life
Mal 3:1-4. When the special messenger comes to the Temple, the sacrifices offered there will again be pleasing to the Lord.
Lk 2:22-40: Luke’s account of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, and the welcome he receives from the faithful “anawim”, Simeon and Anna.
Predicting His Future (Andrew Greeley)
As we have noted before in these commentaries, scripture scholars now believe that the infancy narratives arose out of the early liturgical practices of the Jesus movement. The other parts of the gospel grew up around at first oral tradition and then written traditions which the Gospel writers put together. There is no trace of this development, however, in the infancy narratives. They appear almost full blown with no background development. They have been carefully composed with references to the Jewish scriptures. Perhaps, say some experts, they were liturgical plays, little dramas written for the community and perhaps acted out by children in the community (just as the infancy narratives are often acted out today). This is not to suggest that they are pure fiction, but rather that they are stories put together for the community to emphasize their faith in who and what Jesus is. The two elderly spokes persons repeat the early Christian faith – and ours too. And Mary and Joseph must have pondered the words of Smeon and Anna, wondering what this meant for their child. They, like most new parents, probably had dreams for him but the prophecy of Simeon, and the words of Anna sounded somewhat ominous. Incidentally, the custom of blessing candles today comes from the fact in ancient Rome, the “station” for the Mass today was a church in the ruins of the Forum (Santa Maria in Foro) and, since it was in the middle of winter, it was dark and people needed the candles to find their way among the ruins. The devotion to the young Jesus, the Light of the World, presents him as one who overcomes the darkness
Story: Once upon a time, actually, probably every day, new parents bring their precious bundle home from its birthing place, convinced that their child is the most precious baby in the world and they begin imaging all the great things this child will accomplish. As they share their dreams for their child with family and friends, there is always someone ready to throw a wet blanket on their expectations. One couple recounting this experience when they had their first child spoke of how indigent they became when anyone would suggest that, first of all, the child would someday make an independent decision about life choices and in addition to that, there undoubtedly would be limitations to what the child might accomplish. Then one day a visiting friend raved about how wonderful the baby was and how lucky they were to have this precious bundle. The friend then offered them this bit of advice, “Love your child with all your heart and soul. Give the child encouragement in whatever interests he displays. If you do that, you will know that you have been good parents. But if you try to live out your dreams through what you child does, through what he accomplishes, you will only be frustrated when your child makes his or her own life choices, especially if they are not the ones you had hoped to see.”
Marked for a Mission (Martin Hogan)
One of the great blessings of our parish is what is known as the Active Age Association, or “Triple A”. The work it does reflects the association’s name. It helps older people to live active lives. The generosity and commitment of a large number of parishioners ensures that older people in the parish are offered a whole range of activities that they can choose from. We thank God for the work of this association, and we hope and pray that it will continue to thrive for many years.
There is a good example of an active older person in today’s gospel reading. Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, was an eighty-four year old woman. The gospel reading tells us that she was serving God night and day, with fasting and prayer. She was also something of a preacher because we are told that she spoke of the child Jesus to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem. She certainly qualifies as one of the active aged. We are not told how old Simeon was, but it is likely that he was elderly too. He had been waiting a long time to see the Christ, and having seen him he was now ready to depart this life. He was a regular visitor to the Temple, going wherever the Holy Spirit led him. Here was another active, aged person. He was also someone who was alert to the deeper meaning of things. He recognized the true significance of the child that was brought into the temple by the young couple Mary and Joseph.
The gospel reading puts before us a meeting between youth and age. A young couple with their child enter the Temple of God and there they meet a much older man and woman. This meeting turned out to be a source of blessing for both generations. Youth was graced by age, and age was graced by youth. Simeon and Anna were graced and blessed by the coming of this young couple and their child into the Temple. The young couple were themselves blessed and graced by the older pair. This can be true of our own experience as well. The younger generation can be a source of great blessing to the older generation, and vice-versa. They each have something to give the other. The promise of youth can be an inspiration to older people. The experience and wisdom of age can serve as a source of strength and stability for the young. We need to bring the generations into contact with each other, because each has something to offer to the other. The generation in the middle, those in their middle years, are often best placed to bring these two generations together. I remember when I was a child my father bringing me and my brothers to see my grandparents every Sunday morning. Those visits had some kind of worthwhile influence on me that is hard to define. You could say that I was blessed and graced by those visits.
No matter what generation we belong to, our calling as followers of the Lord is to bless and grace others by our presence. All of the people who met in the Temple in today’s gospel reading were the better for that meeting – Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna and even the child Jesus himself.. It might prompt any one of us to ask the question, “Are others the better for having met me?” The second reading this morning mentions two qualities that the adult Jesus had. He is described there as a “compassionate and trustworthy high priest.” Because he was compassionate and trustworthy, people from all walks of life were the better for having met him. The presence of these qualities in our own lives will make us a source of blessing for others. A compassionate person is someone who, in some way, can enter into, or tries to enter into, our experience of life, someone who can feel with us and for us. A trustworthy person is someone who honours and respects whatever we might entrust to him or her. They can be relied upon to hold in trust whatever we give them of ourselves. These are qualities that, in a sense, are of God. They are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. They are found in those who, like Simeon, are open to the Holy Spirit.
Jesus not only had but he has these qualities to a unique degree. He is compassionate towards us because he has shared the same flesh and blood we all share, as the second reading reminds us. He has become completely like us, having been tempted in every way that we are. He is trustworthy. Having given his life for us on the cross, he has show that he was worthy of our trust. This compassionate and trustworthy high priest enters the temple of our lives every day, as he entered the temple in Jerusalem. He enters our lives in a special way through the Eucharist that we are now celebrating. We are invited to welcome him as Simeon and Anna welcomed him – with an open heart, in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. In receiving the Lord’s coming in this way, we will be blessed, his Spirit will be renewed in us, and we will become a source of blessing for others.
A New Dawn (John Walsh)
Priests and religious everywhere are urged to make a spiritual retreat once a year, and I recall a retreat-master on one such occasion passing the slightly cynical remark about all who make retreats, that while engaged in this exercise it was all: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit .. .,” but soon after the retreat, it was a case of: “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.” And, I think it is a fairly accurate summing up of the relationship most of us have with God, a thing of ups and downs, something as well which is evidenced clearly in many places in sacred scripture.
Take for example the history of Israel prior to 600 B.C., which was a period of affluence, greed, and glaring injustice, accompanied by public displays of religion which were far from being sincere. Saintly individuals, such as the prophet Jeremiah, who were horrified at what was taking place, and who called on the people to change their ways, were ignored, even physically assaulted as being traitors. Drastic situations require drastic remedies, and so God permitted the ruling classes and their families to be carried off into exile in Babylon, amid anguished cries and bitter protests. While there, these people began to reflect. You might say they were forced into making a spiritual retreat. And it really worked. The exiles began to see the role God wanted of them in a spiritual light. It was a time when prayer, both private and in common, played a greater part in their lives, especially when they came together in the synagogues, institutions which derive their origin from this period. These took the place of the Temple as centres where they could worship and glorify God, be instructed in the Mosaic Law, and have public readings from the Old Testament. Indeed it is claimed that much of the Old Testament which we now have, got its final draft during that period.
But alas, shortly after many of these exiles were allowed return to Israel, this newfound religious fervour began to wane, and like the people making retreats, “As it was in the beginning” became the measure of their observance once more. This is the background to today’s first reading from the prophet Malachi, who was sent by God to call the people to reflect once more on what their priorities in life should be. Malachi is really not the name of a person. It actually translates as “my messenger.” This unknown prophet was a man profoundly loyal to his religion. He could not tolerate the priests of the day, who were ignorant, grasping and turning a blind eye on the abuses in society. His protest against divorce and mixed marriages was especially stringent. He called on God to cut off from the tents of Jacob, that is excommunicate, anyone marrying the daughter of an alien god, in other words one given to the worship of an idol. Referring to marriage breakdown, he said, “Do not break faith with the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel” (2:15,16). Malachi was God’s messenger to his people, calling on them to amend their ways. And there were to be others, such as Elijah and John the Baptist, up to the time of the coming of Jesus, God’s own Son, who would be the fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy about the Lord suddenly entering his Temple.
This Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Joseph and his Mother Mary is what we recall on this feast today. According to Simeon, this child was set for the rise and fall of many in Israel. For by setting before his people the religious goals they should aim at, and further by putting these into action in his own life, he would force his listeners to look critically at what kind of lives they were leading. In doing so, some people because of their stubborn pride, would actually sink deeper into the mire of their wickedness, while the humble of heart would become more dedicated in their search for virtue, and by trusting in Jesus rise to a new intimacy with God. Pope John Paul has also declared February, 2nd a new Feast Day. The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is to be a day of recognition of the Consecrated Life of all religious, a life which is a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Many people came into the Temple and witnessed the Presentation of Jesus, but only two, Simeon and Anna, had fait to see in him the future Saviour. It is only when we look at Religious with the eyes of faith that, in this era of growing rejection of God and of things divine, we can hopefully see Christ continuing his presence in the world, in their lives of service and prayer.
Welcome The Light Of Christ’s Revelation (John Paul II )
Homily of Pope John Paul II, on February, 2, 1997. (Focussing on the World Day for Consecrated Life, celebrated for the first time that year.)
“Together with the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna, let us go to meet the Lord in his temple. Let us welcome the light of his Revelation, committing ourselves to spreading it among our brothers and sisters in view of the now imminent Great Jubilee of the Year 2000″, the Holy Father said in his homily on Sunday, February, 2, 1997, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, during the Mass he celebrated in St Peter’s Basilica. The Pope made particular reference to the World Day for Consecrated Life, which is being celebrated for the first time this year. Here is a translation of his homily, which was given in Italian.
” Lumen ad revelationem gentium”: a light for revelation to the Gentiles (cf. Lk 2:32). Forty days after his birth, Jesus was taken by Mary and Joseph to the temple to be presented to the Lord (cf. Lk 2:22), according to what the law of Moses prescribes: “Every first-born male shall be consecrated to the Lord” (Lk 2:23); and to offer in sacrifice “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons, in accord with the dictate in the law of the Lord” (LK 2:24). In recalling these events, the liturgy intentionally and precisely follows the sequence of Gospel events: the completion of the 40 days following Christ’s birth. It does the same, later, with regard to the period between the Resurrection and the Ascension into heaven.
Three basic elements can be seen in the Gospel event celebrated today: the mystery of the coming, the reality of the meeting and the proclamation of the prophecy. First of all, the mystery of the coming The biblical readings we have heard stress the extraordinary nature of God’s coming: the prophet Malachi announces it in a transport of joy, the responsorial psalm sings it and Luke’s Gospel text describes it. We need only listen, for example, to the responsorial psalm: “Lift up, O gates, your lintels … that the king of glory may come in! Who is this king of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle…. The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory” (Ps 23 :7-8, 10). He who had been awaited for centuries enters the temple of Jerusalem he who fulfils the promise of the Old Covenant: the Messiah foretold. The psalmist calls him “the king of glory”. Only later will it become clear that his kingdom is not of this world (cf. Jn 18:36) and that those who belong to this world are not preparing a royal crown for him, but a crown of thorns.
However, the liturgy looks beyond. In that 40-day-old infant it sees the “light” destined to illumine the nations, and presents him as the “glory” of the people of Israel (cf. Lk 2:32). It is he who must conquer death, as the Letter to the Hebrews proclaims, explaining the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature” (Heb 2:14), having taken on human nature.
After describing the mystery of the Incarnation, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews presents the mystery of Redemption: “Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (ibid., 2:17-18). This is a deep and moving presentation of the mystery of Christ. The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews helps us to understand better why this coming to Jerusalem of Mary’s newborn Son should be a decisive event in the history of salvation. Since it had been built, the temple was awaiting in a most exceptional way the One who had been promised. Thus his coming has a priestly meaning: “Ecce sacerdos magnus”; behold, the true and eternal High Priest enters the temple.
The second characteristic element of today’s celebration is the reality of the meeting. Even if no one was waiting for Joseph and Mary when they arrived hidden among the people at the temple in Jerusalem with the baby Jesus, something most unusual occurs. Here they meet persons guided by the Holy Spirit: the elderly Simeon of whom St Luke writes: “This man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Lk 2:25-26), and the prophetess Anna, who had lived “with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Lk 2:36-37). The Evangelist continues: “And coming up at that very hour, she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Simeon and Anna: a man and a woman, representatives of the Old Covenant, who, in a certain sense, had lived their whole lives for the moment when the temple of Jerusalem would be visited by the expected Messiah. Simeon and Anna understand that the moment has come at last, and reassured by the meeting, they can face the last phase of their life with peaceful hearts: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Lk 2:29-30). At this discreet encounter, the words and actions effectively express the reality of the event taking place. The coming of the Messiah has not passed unobserved. It was recognized through the penetrating gaze of faith, which the elderly Simeon expresses in his moving words.
The third element that appears in this feast is prophecy: today truly prophetic words resound. Every day the Liturgy of the Hours ends the day with Simeon’s inspired canticle: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, … a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory of your people Israel” (Lk 2:29-32). The elderly Simeon adds, turning to Mary: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34-35).
Thus while we are still at the dawn of Jesus’ life, we are already oriented to Calvary. It is on the Cross that Jesus will be definitively confirmed as a sign of contradiction, and it is there that his Mother’s heart will be pierced by the sword of sorrow. We are told it all from the beginning, on the 40th day after Jesus’ birth, on the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, so important in the Church’s liturgy.
Dear brothers and sisters, today’s feast is enriched this year with a new significance. In fact, for the first time we are celebrating the Day for Consecrated Life. Dear men and women religious and you, dear brothers and sisters, members of secular institutes and societies of apostolic life, you are all entrusted with the task of proclaiming, by word and example, the primacy of the Absolute over every human reality. This is an urgent task in our time, which often seems to have lost the genuine sense of God. Together with the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna, let us go to meet the Lord in his temple. Let us welcome the light of his Revelation, committing ourselves to spreading it among our brothers and sisters in the present time, when we are privileged to be alive. May the Blessed Virgin, Mother of hope and joy, accompany us and grant that all believers may be witnesses to the salvation which God has prepared in the presence of all peoples in his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of his people Israel Amen!
(from: L’Osservatore Romano, February, 1997)
First Reading: Mal 3:1-4
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight – indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.
Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
Gospel: Lk 2:22-40
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.