Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Candlemas- Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

In past times the Feast of the Presentation marked the end of the Christmas season. This feast is also known as Candlemas. Traditionally, people would bring candles they used in their homes to the Church to be blessed. Even today some parishes carry on this lovely tradition. On this feast we commemorate and celebrate the day when, in accord with Jewish tradition, Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to dedicate him to God as a firstborn son. In like manner, the Code of Canon Law states that Christian "[p]arents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks." Of course, we meditate on this event as the fourth Joyful mystery of the Rosary. The fruit of this mystery is obedience.

According to St. Luke's account, upon their arrival at the Temple, Mary and Joseph encountered Simeon and the prophetess Anna, both of whom were anxiously awaiting Israel's Messiah. Simeon had received the assurance of God that he would live until he saw the Messiah. Upon seeing the infant Jesus he broke into the prayer, which is recited every day as part of Night Prayer throughout the Church, known as the Nunc Dimittis:

"Lord, now 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" (Luke 2:29-32).

St. Sophronius (AD 560-638), who was patriarch of Jerusalem at the time it fell into Muslim hands in AD 637, preached a wonderful sermon on Candlemas, which is the second reading for today's Office of Readings, in which he said,
"Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.

"The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.

"The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God..."

In hastening to meet Christ today, let us be reminded in the lovely words of Gerard Manely Hopkins that "Christ plays in ten thousand places...," perhaps even in a little creature known as Punxsutawney Phil, according to whom spring will blossom early this year. Happy Groundhog Day!

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