Reflections by Jennifer Geach
5th February 2018
On February 2nd we celebrated Candlemas, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. It marked the very last day of the traditional Christmas season, and in some places is celebrated by a procession with candles, which are blessed and then taken home.
Mary and Joseph went up to Jerusalem with the baby Jesus, in order to fulfill two commands of the Law. According to Jewish law, after giving birth a mother was restored to communal life and worship by purification. This ritual was accomplished by an offering: Mary and Joseph, being poor, offered two turtle doves, not a lamb. In Luke’s account, there is no mention of the other part of the ritual. Under Jewish law, the first born son was holy to God, and had to be either sacrificed, or redeemed; the price was 5 shekels. Luke does not mention this redemption, and so it may be argued that Jesus being presented to God belonged completely to Him. For Mary, this may have been a wrench: she had her best beloved as her very own for so short a time, and was then reminded that he belongs to God. Benedict XVI discusses this point ‘Evidently Luke intends to say that instead of being 'redeemed' and restored to his parents, this child was personally handed over to God in the Temple, given over completely to God. . . . Luke has nothing to say regarding the act of 'redemption' prescribed by the law. In its place we find the exact opposite: the child is handed over to God, and from now on belongs to him completely" (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives: 3).
In the temple, Jesus is acknowledged as the Messiah by Simeon. And, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Simeon makes it clear that this child is not just a saviour for the Jews, He is “A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” One of the things that is striking about Simeon and Anna is that they trusted and believed: Simeon had been told he would not die before he saw the Christ, and believed and trusted. Luke tells us he was prompted by the spirit to come into the temple: he came, he saw, he believed. Perhaps we should be more aware of the promptings of the spirit, and more willing to respond to them. For as Malachi prophesied in the first reading, the Lord whom Simeon was seeking suddenly appeared in His temple. However, like Samuel he had to respond to the Lord’s call – imagine if he had been having an ‘off’ day, and thought he would not bother to go to the temple! What would he have missed – and what do we miss when without serious reason, such as serious illness, or the care of young children, we miss Mass on Sundays. For the Lord is in his temple as truly as when He came to Simeon: he is waiting for us to respond to his invitation.
The Nunc Dimittis is prayed at Night Prayer (Compline):
At last, all-powerful Master, you give leave to your servant to go in peace, according to your promise. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all nations, the light to enlighten the Gentiles and give glory to Israel, your people.
It comes from the part of the Gospel reading for Candlemas Day (Luke 2:22-40) containing Simeon's prophetic words:
‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.’