When we celebrate one of the major feast of Our Lord, The Presentation. This feast is also known as Candlemas Day, since traditionally candles used in the Liturgy were blessed on that day, with a solemn procession in which all carried lighted candles before the Mass.
Forty days following the birth of a child, a Jewish mother, having been "purified" of the birth-blood, came into the Temple with an offering to the Lord. Since every child belonged to God, the parents would "buy back" their child. Poor people, like Joseph and Mary, were obliged to bring only two inexpensive birds, like turtledoves or pigeons.
When Jesus was presented in the Temple, He was recognized immediately as the Messiah by a pious old man, Simeon, and a devout widow by the name of Anna. Simeon recognized, in this child, the fulfillment of the prophecy of Micah that we hear as today's first reading: "Thus says the Lord God: Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me: and suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek … ."
This messenger is likened to a refiner of silver who cleanses the sons of Levi (who are priests) of any impurities in a very hot fire. God had promised Simeon that he would see this Child before he died. Simeon says to Mary, "And you yourself a sword will pierce -- so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed." The widow, Anna, also recognizes this child as special, although we don't know what words she said.
Although but a mere child, Jesus enters the Temple as a divine, yet human High Priest. By coming in human flesh and blood, He comes already bringing God's forgiveness. He brings understanding of our weakness, for which He will show His mercy, as we read in today's Second Reading from Hebrews.
On this feast, all of us who will follow Christ our Savior, must become candles to be purified of sin. In being consumed, we ourselves become light to illuminate the world around us with Jesus' truth and love. What a beautiful feast for us in this darkest and coldest time of winter, to be transformed into Jesus! May we be encouraged to let His light shine into the darkness that surrounds us!
-Msgr. Paul E. Whitmore|