On Friday, February 2, the Church celebrates the Presentation of the Lord, or Candlemas Day, which occurs 40 days after the birth of Jesus. It’s called Candlemas because traditionally the liturgy includes the blessing and procession of candles.
Many Catholics continue to keep out the Nativity set or other Christmas decorations until this day. For some Catholics, the Christmas season doesn’t end until Candlemas. This was true for St. Pope John Paul II, it is said.
For the most part, the tendency is to concentrate on the happy story that takes place here. The new parents – Joseph and Mary – bring their Infant Son to the Temple as was customary for the Jewish people.
In my younger days, I compared the Presentation to modern day infant baptisms. I pictured it as a joyful, exciting day of celebrating with family and friends. Scripture doesn’t specifically say whether or not family and friends accompanied the Holy Family to the Temple for the Presentation, but it seems as though they went alone. Or at least it was a more solemn occasion than today’s baptismal celebrations.
What’s more, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, so to speak, and there’s more meaning to the story than you or I may realize.
In that respect, there are three things to remember and meditate on about this feast day.
The Presentation of Jesus was also the Purification of Mary.
According to Jewish law, the firstborn male child belongs to God. Therefore, his parents had to “buy him back” on the 40th day after birth by taking him to the Temple and offering a sacrifice there. It also is Jewish law that a woman was ritually “unclean” for 40 days after childbirth and had to present herself to the priests and offer sacrifice in order to be purified.
But, Jesus was God. He had no reason to be bought back or presented, for that matter.
Since Mary already was pure and had given a virginal birth, she had no reason to be purified. Yet, the Holy Family observed the Mosaic law in love for God and as an example of humility and obedience.
The Presentation is an echo of the Epiphany.
When Joseph, Mary, and Jesus entered the temple, they encountered two unusual and significant characters.
The old man, Simeon, had long-awaited coming of the Messiah, and when he saw our Lord he recognized him immediately. “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel,” he said. (Luke 2:29-32)
Just an aside – the Light that Simeon saw is the reason the Presentation also is called Candlemas and is celebrated with candles.
So too, the prophetess Anna recognized Jesus as the Messiah. She, like Simeon, was very devout, spending her days in fasting and prayer.
“And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem,” she said. (Lk 2:38)
Thus, Jesus as Savior had been revealed not only to Joseph and Mary, but to the whole world as well.
Mary’s role as Co-Redemptrix is revealed.
After recognizing Jesus as Messiah and blessing the Holy Family, Simeon turned to Mary and said, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Lk 2:34-35)
So much for the gala baptismal bash I’d pictured in my younger years. Simeon had dropped a bombshell by informing Mary that both she and her Son were in for a great deal of suffering. Mary would be asked to accompany Jesus through his Passion and Crucifixion.
Obviously, the Presentation of the Lord is far more than a family trip to the Temple.
Through the Presentation, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus show us a profound example of humility and obedience by observing Jewish law even though they didn’t have to. They did that for our sake, not their own.
Through the Presentation, our Lord’s kingship, divinity, and power are reaffirmed. He is again proven to be the one and only Messiah.
Through the presentation, we are assured of Mary’s role as Helpmate of Christ and Advocate in our salvation.
The Presentation of the Lord certainly is a monumental event ffor the Holy Family. But it is even more so a monumental event for you and me.