February 1, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

The child Jesus is consecrated to his Father

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Sion, adorn your bridal chamber and welcome Christ the King; take Mary in your arms, who is the gate of heaven, for she herself is carrying the King of glory and new light. A Virgin she remains, though bringing in her hands the Son before the morning star begotten, whom Simeon, taking in his arms announced to the peoples as Lord of life and death and Savior of the world.” (Traditional antiphon for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord)

Tomorrow, Feb. 2, is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. This is our remembrance of the day on which Mary and Joseph, who were devout Jews, actively embraced the rituals of their religious tradition and humbly fulfilled their obligation to consecrate their newborn son to the Lord.

We know, of course, that this child did not need to be given back to the Lord. He was the Lord, and his very existence was a form of oblation or “giving back” to the Father in heaven.

Similarly, Jewish law required that the child’s mother be ritually purified. Mary did not need this. She was already pure and spotless by virtue of her Immaculate Conception, a gift of God’s grace that allowed her to become the new Eve, the mother of all the living.

The fulfillment of the Law, which we call the Presentation of the Lord, was undertaken not out of necessity. It was a symbolic action that was meant to convey three things: 1) This newborn child, who was proclaimed by the heavenly hosts as the Savior of humankind, has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it; 2) Mary, the new Eve, shares in her son’s glory, but she will also share in his “perfect and unique oblation on the cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #529); and 3) all of us, children of God, are consecrated to the Lord by the intercession of Mary our mother.

Traditionally on this feast, the Church invites us to bless the candles that are used throughout the Church year. When this solemn blessing is accompanied by a procession into the church, the congregation is invited to sing: “A light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel,” which is then followed by the opening line of the Canticle of Simeon: “Lord, now you may let your servant go in peace, in accordance with your word” (cf., Lk 2:22-40). These acclamations connect us to two major themes of Luke’s version of the Christmas story: God’s salvation is for everyone, and the prophecy of Simeon concerning the sword that will pierce Mary’s heart.

We are rightly humbled by these events. On the one hand, the story is quite simple. A young couple brings their firstborn son to the Temple and, as prescribed by the law, they consecrate him to the Lord and offer sacrifice.

On the other hand, this is a complex, deeply layered story that is rich in symbolism and prophetic wisdom. Simeon and Anna are ordinary people, advanced in age and ready to return to the Lord, but they, too, are more than they appear.

Both are prophets, which means that they have been called by God to witness to the extraordinary miracle that will bring about the salvation of all God’s people—Jews and gentiles alike. To them, God has given the gift of foresight. They can see what others cannot, and they don’t hesitate to speak about what they have seen “to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38).

The gift that Anna and Simeon received on the day that Jesus was consecrated to the Lord in the Temple has also been given to us by virtue of our baptism. We, too, are witnesses to the light of Christ, and we are called to testify by our words and our example to the salvation that is ours by the mercy and goodness of God. The candles that we will bless tomorrow are sacramental signs of the lux Christi, the light of Christ, which is now available to everyone regardless of religion, race, sex, or economic or social status.

As Pope Francis reminds us, we are called to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. Like Simeon and Anna, our vocation is to give thanks to God and share the Good News of our salvation with everyone (including family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, strangers and enemies).

We are meant to be living candles that burn brightly with the light of Christ and that are renewed daily through God’s grace experienced in prayer, the sacraments and our communion with other missionary disciples in the Church.

May the light of Christ shine in our hearts in a special way tomorrow as we thank God for the gift of our salvation. †

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