Saturday, February 3, 2018

Solemnity of the Presentation, Candlemas, Christ our Light

Yesterday being Friday and the first Friday of the second month of 2018, I had planned to post a traditio. But life supersedes blogging. Actually, I posted more in January than I thought I would, even though I missed posting thoughts on the Sunday readings last week. Nonetheless, yesterday we did celebrate the Solemnity of the Presentation of the Lord. Since it was a solemnity that fell on a Friday, I enjoyed a Philly cheese steak sandwich for lunch. I also unapologetically ate a lovely potato, cheese, and sausage dish for supper.

The Presentation of the Lord is the Church's commemoration of that day when Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem in order to fulfill all the Law of Moses required with regard to a firstborn son. This is set forth in St. Luke's Gospel (2:22-38). This marked the beginning of Jesus's perfect fulfillment of the Law, doing is his own person what Israel, throughout her history, was unwilling and incapable of doing on her own.

Traditionally, the Solemnity of the Presentation of the Lord, which marks the outer most boundary of Christmas, has also been known as Candlemas. Because of this, part of the observance of this solemnity has consisted and still consists in many places of blessing candles brought to Mass by the faithful. In our day, the age of electric lights, these blessed candles are used for devotional purposes in our homes. Like holy water and blessed salt, these blessed candles are sacramentals. According to the Second Vatican Council, sacramentals "are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church's intercession" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, sec. 60-61). By means of sacramentals, Christians "are disposed to receive the chief effects of the sacraments" (Ibid). I don't mind sharing that I brought home a blessed candle for use when I am depressed and/or feeling anxious.

It is in the context of this lengthy pericope in the second chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, that Simeon, who, along with the prophetess Anna (she receives short shrift) recognizes in the baby Jesus the fulfillment of their hope, that of their people, and, indeed, the whole world, filled with the Holy Spirit, like so many in Luke's Gospel and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, sings what subsequent tradition knows as the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32). Nunc Dimittis are simply the Latin words for the beginning of this hymn: "Now you [may] dismiss..." Along with the Blessed Virgin's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56) and the canticle of Zechariah, known as the Benedictus (Luke 1:67-79), the Nunc Dimittis is one of the three so-called "Evangelical Canticles" given us in the first two chapters of St. Luke's Gospel.

These three canticles are occupy a central place in the liturgical prayer life of the Western Church. Each is recited every day in the Church's prayer, known as the Liturgy of the Hours. The Benedictus and Magnificat are part of what are known as the "hinge" offices of the Liturgy of the Hours. These hinge offices are Morning and Evening Prayer. Traditionally, Morning and Evening Prayer are known as Lauds and Vespers, respectively. The Nunc Dimittis is part of Night Prayer, known also as Compline, which, along with the Office of Readings, constitutes the second tier of the Liturgy of the Hours, after the hinge hours.

It is from the words of the Nunc Dimittis that Candlemas comes to be:
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 sight of all the peoples,
light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel (italicizing and emboldening emphasis mine)
Simeon, who, with Anna, was among the most of Israelites, recognized that God's salvation, while from the Jews, extends to everyone. In the words of the hymn by Rev. F. Pratt Green: "Christ is the world's light, Christ and none other; born in our darkness, he became our brother."

Our very late Friday traditio, therefore, is not difficult to guess. It is a choral version of the Nunc Dimittis, composed by Gustav Holst and sung by the Exeter Cathedral Choir:

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