|Presentation of Christ Mantegna (1431-1506)|
Feb 2nd commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem, a traditional observance of faithful Jews on the birth of a first son. With the hindsight of the Last Supper, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple can be seen to prefigure the Eucharist in which, day by day, Christians have the opportunity to give back to God back the gift He has given us. So Mary and Joseph return to God that which uniquely came from God.
Traditionally called ‘Candlemas’, the feast of the Presentation has several meanings. The lectionary readings are the same each year, and identify Jesus with ‘the Lord whom you seek’, the one whose unexpected appearance ‘in the temple’ is predicted by the prophet Malachi. The appointed Psalm, appropriately, extols the beauty and wonder of God’s ‘dwelling place’ and the joy of being there. The association with candles, carried in procession, comes from the fact that a central part of the Biblical episode recorded in the Gospel for the day is the aged Simeon's 'Nunc Dimittis' in which he articulates the remarkable insight that the baby he holds in his arms is 'a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of God's people Israel'.
Candlemas comes forty days after the nativity, and has long been regarded as the very last feast of the Christmas season. This is not just because it records a Jewish birth rite, but because Simeon's words summarize so memorably the truth of the Incarnation. In the ceremony for Candlemas, candles for use, at home as well as in church, throughout the coming year are blessed with this prayer:
God our Father,
Source of all light,
this day you revealed to Simeon the light of your revelation to the nations.
Bless these candles and make them holy.
May we who carry them praise your glory, walk in the path of goodness and come to the light that shines forever
Grant this through Christ our Lord.