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Ave Maria!

Candlemas--Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple--Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary--2 February AD 2014

Blessing of Candles and Mass of the Day (English and Latin)

“A light of revelation to the gentiles,
and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

    Today, February 2nd, is the end of the Christmas season, the fortieth day after our Lord's birth.  Two thousand odd years ago on this day the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph carried her Son into the Temple at Jerusalem to offer the sacrifices ordered by the Law of Moses.

    Jesus was a firstborn child, and according to the Law every first born male—animal or human being—belonged to God and had to be bought back from God with a sacrificial offering (Exodus 13:1-3; 13:11-13 and 34:19).  The woman who gave birth to a male child was ritually unclean until the fortieth day.

    If a woman having received seed shall bear a man child, she shall be unclean seven days ...  3 - And on the eighth day the infant shall be circumcised:  4 - But she shall remain three and thirty days in the blood of her purification. She shall touch no holy thing, neither shall she enter into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification be fulfilled. (Leviticus xii:2-4)

    When the boy was forty days old she was to go to the Temple to offer a yearling lamb and a pigeon or dove in sacrifice--if she were poor, two pigeons or doves would suffice, with no lamb:

    6 - And when the days of her purification are expired, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring to the door of the tabernacle of the testimony, a lamb of a year old for a holocaust, and a young pigeon or a turtle for sin, and shall deliver them to the priest:  7 - Who shall offer them before the Lord, and shall pray for her, and so she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that beareth a man child or a maid child.  8 - And if her hand find not sufficiency, and she is not able to offer a lamb, she shall take two turtles, or two young pigeons, one for a holocaust, and another for sin: and the priest shall pray for her, and so she shall be cleansed. (Leviticus xii:6-8).

    The birth of Jesus in no way made Mary “unclean.”  Mary conceived as a virgin, by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, so there was no “seed,” as the Scripture went.  And, by virtue of her Immaculate Conception, she did not “bring forth her child in travail” as all other women do since the fall of Eve—there was no pain, no physical damage, and none of the blood which would render her ritually unclean under the Law of Moses.

    When we consider Saint Matthew's account of the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary had a very good reason for wanting to leave the area of Bethlehem and Jerusalem as quickly as possible to avoid the danger presented by the mad King Herod and his men.  Waiting for the fortieth day was tactically unwise.

    But Joseph and Mary were observant Jews and would not even think to exempt themselves from the Law.  It probably didn't occur to them to run through the brief analysis of the law as I just did.  In this they serve as a good example for Catholics who might otherwise look for trivial reasons to exempt themselves from the laws and customs of the Church.

    In God's providence, Mary and Joseph carried out the ceremonies of the presentation and purification just as though they would have if the Law had obliged them.  I say it was God's providence because it enabled us to hear the testimony of two prophets that would have otherwise been lost to us.  We hear the words of Simeon in today's Gospel reading, and we heard the prophetess Anna on the Sunday after Christmas.

    Anna, you will recall, “was of great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her maidenhood, and by herself as a widow to eighty four years.” (Luke ii:36-37).  Anna spent all of her time at the Temple, continually fasting and praying.  She came up it the very hour the Joseph and Mary came to present Jesus.  The knowledge of who this child might be was clearly revealed to her by God, and “she began to give praise to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all that were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”  (Luke ii:38). So, through the prophetess Anna, we have the very first sermon proclaiming Jesus as the Messias in Israel.  Quite fittingly, it was proclaimed to the faithful people who frequented the house of God.

    We should recall, from the Sunday after Christmas, that like Anna, Simeon was an elderly prophet, and it is he who told Mary that our Lord was “set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted;   And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.”  (Luke ii:35-35). Our Lord would be rejected by many who refused to believe, and were more concerned with the politics of Israel than with eternal salvation;  but He would also raise many more to salvation through His Church.  Mary would suffer with Jesus through her sorrow—though the mother of a King, she did not expect to live the life of a queen.  Many souls would manifest their good intentions to God by sharing the anguish of His sorrowful Mother.  The prayers and aspirations of many souls would be made known through Mary as a powerful intercessor with Jesus.

    Simeon, had been promised by “the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.” (Luke ii:26)  We have to imagine that he came daily to the Temple in search of the promised Redeemer, and on this day his search was rewarded.  Thus, he was fulfilled, and ready to be taken to meet his maker.  Saint Luke records that he uttered the beautiful prayer that we say every evening at the hour of Compline, the bed-time Office of the Church:

    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 the face of all the nations:  A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. (Luke ii:29-32)

    This “light of revelation to the gentiles,” suggests the reason why the Church has us Bless candles on this particular day.  The candles used on the altar are made from the pure wax of virgin bees, and is therefore taken as a symbol of the sinless body of Christ acquired from the Virgin Mary. The flame is sometimes said to symbolize His divinity, hypostatically united to His humanity in the symbol of the wick running through the length of the candle.  The candle is thus a particularly apt symbol of Jesus Christ lighting the path with His divine fire, and calling all to faith in Him.

    Finally, the candles remind us that we—each and every one of us, men and women—are called to be lights of revelation to all those around us.  We are called to be like Anna, speaking about Jesus to any who will listen to our words, and speaking about Him through our good works and good example to all the rest.  Like Simeon, waiting patiently for the Kingdom of God.  Like the Blessed Virgin, in shining purity, ever obedient to God’s holy Law.  Like Saint Joseph, ever ready to protect Christ and His holy Church.  When our time on earth is done, if we hope to leave this life with the cheerful assurance of Simeon, “in peace according to thy word, O Lord,” we must make the effort to shine “as a light of revelation to the gentiles.”


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