January 31, 2014

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionUnder other circumstances, the liturgy for this weekend would be that of the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time. But because a feast of the Lord is celebrated on Feb. 2, we celebrate it instead. And that feast recalls the Presentation of the Lord.

Any interruption in the usual course of the liturgical season is a lesson in itself. The Church tells believers that the feast contains such an important message, and commemorates such a person or event, that it should be observed, and the day of the season set aside. This is occurring with the feast of the Presentation of the Lord this weekend.

By presenting their newborn child in the temple, Jewish parents in effect consecrated the child to God. It was more than just a faithful, charming gesture. It was to place the infant fully within the stream of life among the Chosen People. The child shared in the prerogatives of the People, bestowed by God, beginning with the promise of salvation. Presenting a child in this way also placed him or her in the mission of God’s Chosen People, to adore God above everything and to obey him in all things.

In this spirit, Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple.

The first reading is from the Book of Malachi. Through this prophecy, God promises the Chosen People that they will receive a messenger, divinely sent and empowered. He will be perfect and powerful. In him, absolute reconciliation between God and the people will be achieved.

For the second reading, the Church offers us a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews. No work in the New Testament is more eloquent in its testimony to the identity of the Lord Jesus. This reading marvelously discloses that, in what theologians call the Incarnation, Jesus shares with people, the Lord’s “brothers and sisters,” everything—including himself, his identity, and the divine life dwelling in him (Heb 2:17).

The final reading is from St. Luke’s Gospel, the only source in the Bible of this story of the Presentation of the Lord.

Several strong lessons occur in the reading.

First, an obvious lesson is that Mary and Joseph participated in this revered Jewish custom by presenting Jesus in the temple, and this reveals much about them. They were devout. They obeyed God. They saw themselves as members of the Chosen People with all the obligations derived from this membership.

Next, they encounter Simeon, “religious and devout” as the Gospel describes him. He sees in the tiny Jesus the Messiah, the future, and the life of the world. Simeon was quite specific, revealing much more than the attention given to any newborn. Jesus was unique.

Simeon’s exclamation is the Church’s hymn sung each day in Night Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Predicting the great role ahead for Jesus, Simeon also warns Mary that she will suffer as she watches the life of her son unfold.

Then Anna enters the scene. She is a “prophetess,” according to Luke, meaning that she sees everything in the context of God and of obedience to God. She is elderly and a widow. She is in the temple night and day. She too sees in Jesus the coming of hope and glory.

Reflection

The Liturgy of the Word for this feast of the Presentation of the Lord is very practical for anyone believing in Jesus and seeking salvation.

The figures of Simeon and Anna tell much to us. They recognized Jesus and saw a role hardly suggested simply by the presence of an infant. The Gospel is clear. They are devout. They are aged. Understanding God’s will, and accepting limitations in understanding it, come only to the devout and the sincere.

Finally, Simeon’s warning to Mary is telling. No Christian life is beyond the Lord’s call that each believer must take up a personal cross and follow Jesus. Mary was no exception. †

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