This Sunday, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, marks the end of the 40 days of Christmas and is the last feast of the baby Jesus before the beginning of Lent. Our readings today describe the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem for the first time, in which the child Jesus is redeemed by presenting or offering Him to God in the Temple and making an offering of five shekels (coins). This was done in remembrance of the Passover, when God passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and struck only the houses of the Egyptians, taking the first born sons, which lead to the Israelites being freed from slavery in Egypt. After that, all Jews present their first born sons to God in thanks for their freedom and the lives of their children.
Today is also a feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, because the Holy Family weren’t at the Temple only for Jesus, but for her as well. The old Testament prescribes that a woman will be ritually unclean for 40 days after giving birth because of the blood that is shed in childbirth. Any shedding of blood causes ritual uncleanness, meaning that you are not allowed to worship in the Temple. After the 40 days they were able to go to the Temple and offer a sacrifice of 2 turtledoves or pigeons for Mary’s purification. Ritual uncleanness was not considered sinfulness or guilt; in fact, touching a dead body caused ritual uncleanness, and yet burying the dead was considered to be an act of mercy. These things make someone unclean because they both have to do with life and death, but God is the source of true life (Lv 17:11).
Traditionally, this is celebrated as Candlemas, because Jesus is the light of the world. Today, Jesus entered the Temple, the House of God, for the first time, showing everyone that the light had entered the world. In Churches we still place candles where God is present: around the Tabernacle, around the altar, and at the ambo when the Gospel is being read. In the same way, we begin the Easter Vigil in darkness, because Christ was crucified on Good Friday and the light of God entered the realm of the dead. The first light to reenter Church on Holy Saturday evening is the Paschal Candle, of the Easter Candle, which represents Jesus, and as the candle is brought up the isle the deacon intones, “The Light of Christ,” and everyone responds, “Thanks be to God,” for the light had reentered with world with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. At Candlemas we’ll bless the candles that will be used in Church in the coming months, because a Savior has been born for us and He is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Lk 2:32).
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.