By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 3rd February, 2019
Today’s feast has many names – The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and Candlemas with its description of Jesus as the light to the Gentiles.
Forty days after the birth of a male child, and sixty days after the birth of a female child, a Jewish mother was required to be ritually purified so that she could pick up the threads of a normal life. In my own early ministry in the 1960’s, women regularly came to church immediately after child birth to give thanks for their safe delivery and to make an offering to the Church. The offering Mary made in the Temple was that required of a poor person, two turtledoves and if they were not available, two pigeons. This offering completed her purification.
The second ceremony of this visit was the presentation of the first male child to God, as Samuel was. Originally this was to recruit for the Jewish priesthood but when that became restricted to members of the tribe of Levi, all first born males were still offered to God but redeemed by the offering of a sacrifice. St Luke makes no mention in his gospel of a redemptive sacrifice being offered for Jesus, so Jesus belonged to God and remained in his service. This is why he could say to his parents when they found him in the Temple at aged 12, “Do you not know I must be in my Father’s house?”
The Holy Family was obedient to Jewish Law and so enabled the prophecy of the prophet Micah to be fulfilled, who said that the Lord would appear in his Temple. During this visit, two holy people Simeon and Anna, recognised the true identity of the child Jesus. Simeon had been told by God that before he died, he would see God’s chosen one who would reconcile God’s people to himself. Simeon took Jesus into his arms and sang a song which we know as the Nunc Dimittis which is said during Evensong. In this song, Simeon describes Jesus as a light to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel. In the Old Testament these descriptions are reserved to God alone.
Apart from giving thanks to God for Jesus, Simeon tells Mary that the victory of salvation that Jesus would win will not be an easy victory. Not only that, Mary herself would suffer because of her love for her son. “ A sword shall pierce your own soul,” said Simeon. Once again, Luke presents Mary as the image of suffering discipleship. Serious disciples will he humbled and tread the path of suffering before ascending the hill of the Lord to attend the heavenly banquet.
Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus is reinforced in the Epistle to the Hebrews which makes it clear that only someone who is divine can break the power of evil and its chaos, so enabling those who choose to do so, to shift their life focus from self-centredness to God-centredness.
So today’s feast is like Dr Doolittle’s Pushme-Pullyu llama that faces forwards and backwards at the same time. It looks backwards to the events surrounding Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem reminding us of Jesus’ true identity, and it looks forward to his costly victory of our salvation on the Cross.
Evert time we offer the mass, we look back to that victory on the Cross as we re-present Jesus’ sacrifice and look forward to the heavenly banquet when God’s Kingdom will be fulfilled.
Today’s feast also reminds us of the cost of discipleship. If we love Jesus, like Mary we will suffer because that is the nature of love. Today’s feast marks the end of the Christmas season and begins our journey towards Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Today we shift gear, and the first step is to prepare for Lent by thinking about our Lenten disciplines.
Blessed Candlemas – rejoice that Christ is the light of the world because he is our wounded healer.
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.