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The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin and English
Sunday Within the Octave of the Nativity
Dominica infra Octavam Nativitatis
Since we celebrated our
Lord’s birthday on Christmas, and will celebrate His circumcision on the
eighth day of His life on January 1st, today’s Gospel may seem a bit out of
place, as it refers to His presentation in the Temple on the fortieth day of
His life. We will celebrate it again on February 2nd, but let me explain
what we heard in today’s Gospel.
The Temple in Jerusalem
was very unique. Every Jewish town had its synagogue, where people went for
prayer and scripture reading—but only Jerusalem had God’s Temple. It was
literally the house of God on earth—in a small area surrounded with a veil,
was the Ark of the Covenant, upon which God placed Himself. The veiled
area—called the “Holy of Holies” was off limits to all but the High Priest,
who could enter but once a year. Outside and in front of the Holy of Holies
was an altar upon which various sacrifices were offered to God—animals,
incense, and hot loaves of fine wheaten bread.
Since pregnancy was
associated with blood-flow, a woman was considered ritually “unclean” until
the fortieth day after the birth of a male child (eighty for females), at
which time she was to present the child in the Temple and offer a lamb and a
dove in sacrifice to God, and she would be declared to have been purified.
If she were too poor to afford a lamb, she could offer two doves.
Of course, Mary was in
no need of any purification, but as she and Joseph were devout Jews, the
followed the Law of Moses in all details. For us, they were examples of
faithfully observing all of God’s laws. While they were at the Temple with
Jesus they met the two people mentioned in today’s Gospel. The first was an
old man who had been promised by God that he would live however long it took
for him to meet the Savior of mankind.
Apparently, Simeon was constantly in the Temple, waiting for a sign that the
infant Savior was being presented by his parents. Simeon took the baby Jesus
into his arms, and declared his willingness to die since he had seen the
Now Lord, Thou mayest dismiss Thy servant, in peace according to Thy word,
for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast set before all the
nations. A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people
Mary and Joseph also
met Anna, a widow and prophetess “who departed not from the temple, by
fastings and prayers serving night and day.”
While it is not
explicit that Anna or Simeon actually lived in the Temple—which may
not have been possible—it is quite clear that both spent their waking hours
with God in His holy house, adoring the Divine Presence and witnessing the
sacrifices offered to Him. If Mary and Joseph are proposed to us as models
of obedience to God’s most holy laws, then, along with Anna and
Simeon, they are all models of devotion to Almighty God Himself.
We are all required to
observe God’s holy Law, yet few of us may be able to express the devotion
of Mary, Joseph, Anna, and Simeon. As parents, Mary and Joseph were
constantly concerned for the wellbeing of the young Son of God—putting a
roof over His head, putting food on the table, cooking, cleaning, and sewing
for Him, practicing His lessons, and even teaching Him how to pray. Their
love of God was expressed primarily in practical ways.
Anna and Simeon seem to
have expressed their love of God in a more contemplative way—with prayer and
fasting, and nearly continuous presence before God in the Holy of Holies.
Understand that God was truly there! What they were doing was
marvelously similar to the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
conducted in some monasteries and convents.
Mary, Joseph, Anna, and
Simeon are a wonderful example of what it takes to be a generous Catholic.
Like Mary and Joseph, we must look after the practical needs of our Lord in
our parish church—keeping a roof over it, cleaning, sewing, ironing—caring
for all of the physical needs of the place, the altar, and the
vestments—there are always things to be done.
But a Catholic church,
much like the Temple in Jerusalem, is the House of God. Our Holy of Holies
is the tabernacle right behind the altar of sacrifice. One can come and
worship the Divine Presence. Every day one can witness the
sacrifice offered to God in Holy Mass—not an animal sacrifice, of course—for
our chief priest and victim is Jesus Christ Himself. The human priest is
simply a conduit for the divine sacrificial action.
This is the last Sunday
of the old year. Let me urge you to spend the new year getting to be more
generous with your talents and time. Get to be more like Mary, Joseph,
Anna, and Simeon—strive to be both more active and more contemplative in the
practice of your Catholic Faith.