Today’s Feast!

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Feast of the Purification? Presentation of Jesus in the Temple? Candlemas Day? I have heard today’s feast called all three over the years. But Liturgical books today refer to the preferred title of “The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.” Here is a brief history of the Feast which I found interesting.

According to Jewish law, the firstborn male child belonged to God and the parents had to “buy him back” on the 40th day after his birth, by offering a sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” in the Temple (thus the “purification” of the child.) On the same day, the mother would be ritually purified (thus the “purification.”) Mary and Joseph kept this law, even though, since Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Christ, she would not have had to go through the ritual purification.

Originally, the feast was celebrated on February 14, the 40th day after the Epiphany (Jan. 6,) because Christmas wasn’t yet celebrated as its own feast and so the Nativity, Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord and the feast of Christ’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana were all celebrated on the same day! By the last quarter of the fourth century, however, the Church at Rome had begun to celebrate the Nativity on December 25, so the Feast of the Presentation was moved to February 2, 40 days later.

When Christ was presented in the Temple, “there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, who was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” When Mary and Joseph brought Christ to the Temple, Simeon embraced the Child and prayed the Canticle of Simeon, “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, 0 Lord which we heard in today’s Gospel.”

Inspired by the words of the canticle (“a light to the revelation of the Gentiles,”) by the 11 century, the custom had developed in the West of blessing candles on the Feast of the Presentation. The candles were then lit, and a procession took place through the darkened church while the Canticle of Simeon was sung. Because of this the feast also became known as Candlemas. While the procession and blessing of the candles is not often performed in the United States today, Candlemas is still an important feast in many European countries. (Above history by Scott P. Richert.)

It has been noted by some that while the Epiphany manifested Jesus to the Gentiles, the Presentation manifested Him to His own Jewish people because Simeon, a devout Jew, recognized the Child to be the Savior of the world—the fulfillment of the messianic promise. Simeon’s prayer is considered so important that it is said nightly during the Liturgy of the Hours prayed by many throughout the world. A couple thoughts to ponder:

Do we share the same respect for and observance of the “laws” of our Faith as Mary and Joseph did theirs?

Simeon and Anna spent their day in fasting and prayer in the Temple. Their strong religious spirit allowed them to recognize the Savior. We, of course, cannot spend our entire day thusly, but do we spend SOME quiet time each day so that we, too, can recognize Christ in our life?

Linda Caminiti