Blog Post

A Three-fold Celebration: The Presentation of the Lord

by Theresa Cavicchio

“Now I am sending my messenger – he will prepare the way before me; And the Lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; The messenger of the covenant whom you desire – see he is coming! Says the Lord of hosts” (Mal 3:1).

In the final Prophetic Book of the Bible, the prophet Malachi sets the scene for the Feast of the Presentation, celebrated each year on February 2nd. Centuries later, the evangelist Saint Luke recounts the fulfillment of this prophecy as Mary and Joseph travel to the Temple in Jerusalem with the Infant Jesus (Lk 2:22 – 39).

According to Jewish law, forty days after giving birth, a woman was to present herself at the Temple for ritual purification, and her male child was to be presented to God.

Although purification for the Virgin Mary was unnecessary, she and Joseph submitted obediently to all of the prescriptions of the Law, including a humble offering of two small birds, and the Infant Jesus was presented to His Father. Thus the requirements of the Law were fulfilled.

We may be surprised to learn that there is more to this feast than just its legalistic aspects, however. In actuality, it encompasses three different yet connected aspects: the event as cited in Scripture; Candlemas Day; and the World Day for Consecrated Life.

1 ~ The Presentation as recorded in Scripture

In addition to citing the legal requirements of Jewish Law, the passage according to Saint Luke also recounts the Holy Family’s encounter with Simeon and Anna, two holy elderly people of deep faith and constant prayer, who had been awaiting the arrival of the promised Messiah.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Simeon does recognize in the Infant Jesus “the Messiah of the Lord” (2:26) and takes Him into his arms, reciting the Nunc dimittis: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (2:29 – 32).

2 ~ Candlemas Day

Jesus Christ, the “light for revelation to the Gentiles,” is the focus of Candlemas Day, also celebrated on February 2nd. On this day it is traditional for candles, representing Christ, the Light of the World, to be blessed and shared with the faithful.

The Feast of the Presentation has been celebrated in the Church since as early as the 4th century, originally in Jerusalem. In the 8th century, Pope Sergius initiated a procession in Rome to take place prior to the celebration of Mass on that date, including the blessing and distribution of candles to the faithful. The devotion spread, and the term Candlemas originated in England.

Candlemas Day celebrates the reality that the Light of the World had entered the Temple at Jerusalem, as prophesied by Malachi. In some locations today, the traditional procession and blessing of candles continue, at times including singing of the Nunc dimittis, the Canticle of Simeon – the one privileged to hold in his arms that divine Light.

3 ~ World Day for Consecrated Religious

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) states: “In 1997, Pope Saint John Paul II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd. This Feast is also known as Candlemas Day, the day on which candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life ae called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples.

The celebration of World Day for Consecrated Life is transferred to the following Sunday [in parishes, February 3rd – 4th this year] in order to highlight the gift of consecrated persons for the whole Church.”

In his Papal Letter instituting the World Day for Consecrated Life, Pope Saint John Paul II explained: “The celebration of the World Day for Consecrated Life, which will be observed for the first time on 2 February, is intended to help the entire Church to esteem ever more greatly the witness of those persons who have chosen to follow Christ by means of the practice of the evangelical counsels [poverty, chastity, and obedience] and, at the same time, is intended to be a suitable occasion for consecrated persons to renew their commitment and rekindle the fervor which should inspire their offering of themselves to the Lord.”

A Prayer of the Faithful suggested by the USCCB for the Mass of this special day follows.

“For those consecrated to God by the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, that they may seek to live their baptismal promises more intensely and have the grace to persevere in their commitment to the Lord and serve with open hearts and willing spirits, we pray to the Lord.”

The three-fold celebration of the Feast of the Presentation is a beautiful expression of the richness of our faith. Keeping our sights set on Jesus, the Light of the World, and on His most holy Mother, we press forward in faith, and we return to the Letter of Pope Saint John Paul II to lift up an appropriate closing prayer.

“May the Virgin Mary, who had the sublime privilege of presenting to the Father his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as a pure and holy oblation, obtain for us that we may constantly be open and welcoming in face of the great works which He does not cease to accomplish for the good of the Church and of all of humanity.”

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