Marking triple feasts - Presentation, Candlemas, Consecrated Life
Story by Dr. Jewel E. Brennan | Special Contributor
With the liturgical closing of the Christmas Season, the Church, in its Calendar of Feasts, continues to teach more about the Christ Child’s life. On Feb. 2, 40 days after Christmas, the Church celebrates the ancient feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, also known as Candlemas. In 1997, then-Pope John Paul II added another commemoration to this day. He asked that it also be celebrated as World Day of Consecrated Life. What does this mean?
The Presentation of the Lord: Ancient Jewish Tradition had purification laws requiring a new mother to present herself to be purified at the Temple. Under Mosaic Law, the firstborn child was to be consecrated to God and a sacrificial offering was given. (Ex. 13: 2, 12-13). Mary was the first holy temple chosen to be the Mother of God. She was sinless in her Immaculate Conception because in God’s plan, she was to be the Mother of the Messiah, the Redeemer, Christ. Her Son, Jesus, is God and infinitely holy from all eternity. Surely neither of them needed to be consecrated to God or be purified. Yet Jesus and Mary complied with the Jewish laws. Mary and Joseph went to the temple to dedicate the infant Jesus and offered two turtle doves. The Holy Family gives us examples of faith and religious obedience.
On this occasion of Christ’s presentation, Mary and Joseph met the elderly prayerful man, Simeon, who could not die until he saw the Messiah. It is Luke’s Gospel that gives us Simeon’s beautiful canticle: “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, a Light for revelation to the Gentiles...and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce (Luke 2:29-32).’”
The Church has great reverence for Simeon’s prayer and offers it daily at Night Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. The celebration of Mary’s Purification and Christ’s Presentation was part of the early Church’s feasts. In Jerusalem, by the fourth century, the Mosaic use of the expression, “Purification of Mary” had diminished and the liturgy began using the more accurate expression, “Feast of the Presentation of Christ” (“The Liturgy and Time Vol. IV,” Martimort, Dalmais and Jounel).
Candlemas: The symbols of light and fire have been part of the Church’s worship from the beginning. Early Christians began bringing candles to be blessed at Mass on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ. They took the candles home as reminders of Simeon’s words to all. This practice became the origin of the word “Candlemas” (Ibid. 88-89). More than 2,000 years later, devout Christians continue to light candles at times of prayer or when visiting the homebound sick. Blessed candles are symbols of hope in the darkness of the world.
World Day of Consecrated Life: In 1997, Pope John Paul II saw how the Presentation of Christ at the Temple, and Candlemas connect with the presentation of countless consecrated men and women for the Church. Their lives are given over for prayer and apostolic service in the Church as they strive to be genuine living “lights” of Christ for the world. The Holy Father calls the whole Church to remember Simeon’s words, about the Christ Child, that he would be the “Light for revelation to the Gentiles.” John Paul II understood Mary is associated with this presentation of Christ as she is Bride and figure of the Church. In his words, “She is the mother figure of the Church who continues to offer her sons and daughters to the heavenly Father, associating them with the one oblation of Christ, cause and model of all consecration in the Church.”
The now St. John Paul II refers to the men and women who are consecrated for the Church’s service in various vocations: eremitical life, consecrated virgins, religious institutes, secular institutes and societies of apostolic life. The Holy Father wanted to “help the entire Church esteem the witness of those persons in consecrated life” and “also for each of them to have a day set aside to…rekindle the fervor which should inspire their offering themselves to the Lord.” St. John Paul II believed it was important for consecrated persons to “… praise the Lord more solemnly and to thank Him for the great gift of consecrated life.” He wanted consecrated persons to “…celebrate together solemnly the marvels which the Lord has accomplished in them…and to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world” (Quotations from John Paul II: Apostolic Exhortation, Jan. 6, 1997, Vatican.va.com).
The love, prayer and work of consecrated men and women continues to spread the Word, the Light of the World, Jesus. Yet a great need continues for many more laborers in the Church’s vineyard. In the Diocese of Trenton there are a number of consecrated men and women serving in various forms of consecrated life – and there is an urgent need for many more to respond to the call.
Dr. Jewel Brennan is consecrated in the Ancient Rite (Ordo) of Virgins Living in the World. She is a parishioner of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, a licensed psychologist and holds a second doctorate in pastoral theology from The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.