The Presentation of the Lord

Today, forty days after the birth of Jesus, we celebrate the end of the Christmas season with a festival of light. Candles are blessed and they are carried in procession to welcome Christ, the Light to enlighten the Gentiles and the Glory of his people. Until the year 1969, the feast, which is of Eastern origin, was known in the West as the feast of the Purification of Our Lady and also as Candlemas.  Now it is referred to it as the Presentation of the Lord.

It was Jewish belief that, because of bleeding, a mother was ritually unclean after giving birth and hence was in need of ritual purification.  On giving birth to a son, a Jewish woman would be in semi-seclusion for 40 days (in the case of a girl, the period was longer).  At the end of that period, the mother would then, in the case of her first-born, present him to the Lord in acknowledgement of his being source of all life. First-born animals were also presented and sacrificed to God.

In today’s feast we see Mary and Joseph – 40 days after the birth of Jesus – submitting to the Law of Moses in bringing their Son to be offered to God as their first-born, and for the purification of the mother after giving birth, even though we believe that Mary did not need such purification. For this ceremony, they have traveled from Nazareth to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Today’s feast brings to an end a whole period which resonates with a sense of light.  Christmas itself, taking place just after the winter solstice, is the celebration of the end of the darkness of winter and the coming of light into the world, especially the Light of the World.   Twelve days later, there is the feast of the Epiphany when the light of a star guides gentile outsiders (the Magi) to pay homage to the Light of the World. 

Today then, we bring the celebration to a close with this feast of light.  Traditionally, it has been a day for processions, as we remember the Lord’s entry into the Temple, the house of his Father, for the first time.  These processions originally replaced pagan celebrations.  Later, it was identified with the blessing of candles carried in procession in honour of Christ, the:

…light for revelation to the gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.
(Luke 2:32)

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