This year we have a feast of Our Lord which takes precedence over the Sunday Mass: the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It falls on February 2, forty days after Christmas. The event it commemorates is Mary and Joseph fulfilling the prescription of the Law of Moses that a firstborn son was to be presented to the Lord and redeemed by a sacrifice. This was to remind the Israelites that the plague of the death of the firstborn was what had gained them their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. (Cf. Exodus 13:14-15) This would have been observed by any devout Jewish parents. Because Mary and Joseph had not yet returned to their home in Nazareth, they went to the Temple in Jerusalem to perform this ritual.
What we celebrate in this feast, however, is the mystery manifested on this occasion. Simeon and Anna mentioned in today’s Gospel were devout people who had seen many parents like Mary and Joseph come to the temple to perform this ritual. However both are drawn by the Holy Spirit to this couple to recognize that this infant is the Christ, the Lord’s anointed one. So the testimony about Jesus continues. The fulfillment of God’s revelation to Simeon “that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord” (Gospel) is prefigured in the prophecy in today’s First Reading: “Suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek.” This is reaffirmed by the Responsorial Psalm, which sings of welcoming the King of Glory. “Who is this king of glory? The Lord of hosts; he is the king of glory.” Finally the Second Reading teaches us why God the Son became truly human: “He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.” It is this expiatory sacrifice, which Jesus offered once and for all on the cross as both priest and victim, that is made present at every Mass.
Another aspect of the celebration of this feast is the blessing of candles. In his canticle in today’s Gospel Simeon speaks of God’s salvation as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” In next Sunday’s Gospel we will hear Jesus say to us, “You are the light of the world.” He himself is the source of that light, which is imparted to us at our baptism and symbolized by the lighting of our baptismal candle from the Easter candle with the words, “Receive the light of Christ.” We are then commissioned to “walk always as children of the light.” While electric lights have replaced candles as our principal source of light, we continue to use them in the liturgy as a symbol of the light of faith by which Christ leads us to our true and eternal home. This is why we use candles in processions, which symbolize the Church on her pilgrim way. The sanctuary lamp by the tabernacle symbolizes Christ’s abiding presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Votive candles symbolize the prayers of those who have lit them remaining before God in his house. Lighting blessed candles at home during family prayer or during a storm also remind us of God’s presence whenever and wherever we need him. Some boxes of blessed candles for home use are available for an offering of $5.00 per box for anyone wishing to keep up this tradition.
This Monday, February 3, is the Memorial of Saint Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, the patron saint against illnesses of the throat. Since most parishioners will not be attending Mass on Monday, the blessing of throats will be imparted after the Masses this weekend. It is a very popular blessing, which also makes use of candles, although unlit. I invite you to look up the story of Saint Blaise to find out why we use candles for this blessing.
Pray the Rosary this week for the homeless and all who suffer because of the cold, and for people sick with the flu. Pray for the young people in our parish preparing for confirmation and first holy communion. As always pray for peace and the safety of military personnel serving abroad.
May God bless his people with peace.