February 2nd is the date chosen by the Church to celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Since this date falls on a Sunday this year, we take a break from our readings for Ordinary Time to celebrate with these special readings:
The Word for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
Psalm 24:7, 8, 9, 10
Luke 2:22-40 or Luke 2:22-32
While the Catholic Church today refers to this day as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, traditionally it has also been called the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, Candlemas was a time where beeswax candles were blessed for use throughout the year. Today the celebration focuses more on the prophecy of Simeon, and Pope John Paul II chose it as a time for renewal of religious vows (not to be confused with priestly renewal of vows, which usually takes place on Holy Thursday at the Chrism Mass, or I’ve also seen it done as part of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper).
Our first reading comes from the Prophet Malachi. Coming from the mid-4th century BCE, Micah was a contemporary of Nehemiah’s speaking to a community that is now a few generations past the return from the Babylonian Exile. Malachi knows that the Lord loves Israel, but is concerned that Israel isn’t returning that love sufficiently. In order to help the people see the correct path, he says in today’s passage that the Lord will send his messenger who will purify the people and make them again pleasing to the Lord. Not surprisingly, we Christians see Jesus as this messenger.
Our second reading comes from the Letter to the Hebrews. Where Malachi has told us the mission of this new messenger, this passage from Hebrews has the author telling us why this messenger is worthy… in essence, because he came as one of us, was tested and suffered like us, he is in the best position to help us, and that it was us, mere mortals and not angels, that he chose to help.
This takes us to our Gospel with a story that’s unique to Luke. Part of the infancy narratives, it tells the story of bringing the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, “when the days were completed for their purification.” There’s actually two reasons for this… the “purification” is a ritual for mothers as prescribed by Mosaic Law (thus the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin), but as this passage also mentions, “every male… shall be consecrated to the Lord”. This should not be confused with the circumcision, which takes place 8 days after birth, but at the 40 day mark. These details, however, only serve to set the scene, because the real story here is when them meet Simeon the Righteous… an elder wise man of the Temple who recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. They also meet an old prophetess, Anna, who was the daughter of Phanuel, of the Tribe of Asher, who also accepts Jesus as the Messiah.
But what’s really going on with this story? Who are these old prophets and why is this story significant? And then we have Luke, the evangelist to the Gentiles, giving us lessons on Mosaic Law (something you would expect more from Matthew). Without unpacking this too much, Luke is going to great lengths to convince his readers that Jesus was indeed who he said he was. Today’s Gospel serves to validate that Jesus is the Messiah for both the Jews and the Gentiles. A devout Jewish family, following ritual customs, yet living in the former Northern Kingdom… the land of the Samaritans… the Gentiles. His prophecy was foretold by the scriptures (remember our first reading from Malachi?), and this prophecy was validated by both Simeon, an elder of the Temple (and likely a Levite), and by Anna from the Tribe of Asher, which was the Northern most of all the Tribes (in the former Northern Kingdom which fell to the Assyrians). And this validation happens where? In Jerusalem… in the Temple… the center of Jewish worship. For Luke, these signs clearly point to Jesus as the man of prophecy and destiny.
Jesus the Jew
Finding the Heart of Jesus’ Life: Looking at Jesus in the Gospels