February 1, 2017

The Presentation of the Lord

The Presentation of Christ

February 2nd, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord [originally known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin] It occurs forty days after the birth of Christ and is also called Candlemas, in reference to the blessing and procession of candles in today's liturgy.

The story of the Presentation is told in Luke 2:22-29. Simeon the Righteous met Mary, Joseph, and Jesus when they entered the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the Torah. Simeon was a "just and devout" man of Jerusalem who had been visited by the Holy Spirit and told he would not die until he had seen the Son of Man. Scripture records that Simeon prays the Nunc dimittis [Canticle of Simeon] in which Jesus' mission is prophesied. Seeing the infant, Simeon took the baby in his arms, blessed the Lord and joyously proclaimed:
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.
Anna the Prophetess was also present. Widowed for many years, she was in her eighties and spent her days worshiping, fasting and praying in the Temple. When she beheld the Christ Child she praised God and testified of him to all who longed for the promised Messiah. Simeon and Anna were two venerable elderly souls devoted to God through prayer and fasting. So strong was their religious spirit that they were both able to immediately recognize Jesus as the Anointed One.
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Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple

The feast was first observed in the Eastern Church as "The Encounter." In the sixth century, it began to be observed in the West: in Rome with a more penitential character and in Gaul (France) with solemn blessings and processions of candles, popularly known as "Candlemas." The Presentation of the Lord concludes the celebration of the Nativity and with the offerings of the Virgin Mother and the prophecy of Simeon, the events now point toward Easter.

"In obedience to the Old Law, the Lord Jesus, the first-born, was presented in the Temple by his Blessed Mother and his foster father. This is another 'epiphany' celebration insofar as the Christ Child is revealed as the Messiah through the canticle and words of Simeon and the testimony of Anna the prophetess. Christ is the light of the nations, hence the blessing and procession of candles on this day. In the Middle Ages this feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or 'Candlemas,' was of great importance.

The specific liturgy of this Candlemas feast, the blessing of candles, is not as widely celebrated as it should be, except of course whenever February 2 falls on a Sunday and thus takes precedence. There are two ways of celebrating the ceremony, either the Procession, which begins at a 'gathering place' outside the church, or the Solemn Entrance, celebrated within the church."

Excerpted from Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year.

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