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IHS Candlemas—2 February A.D. 2020 Ave Maria!

Apology concerning last week’s sermon: The website on which I looked up the Mass texts for the third Sunday after Epiphany gave me the texts for the Third Sunday of Lent!!

Ordinary of the Mass Blessing of Candles and Mass of the Day

«Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word, in peace, because my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all the nations: a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and a glory for Thy people Isræl.»[1]

Today we celebrate s sort of “dual” feast, or perhaps a triple—the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple at Jerusalem, the Purification of our Lady, and Candlemas. The first two these are observances of the Law of Moses, not truly mandatory for the Holy Family, but observed out of zeal for doing God's will. The old Law held that a woman was ritually “unclean,” from the birth of a son until the fortieth day thereafter. On the fortieth day she was to have a priest offer sacrifice for her cleansing. The Law also required that all first-born males, animals and children, belonged to God and must redeemed or bought back from the priests.

As I said, there was no real obligation for Mary and Joseph to observe these rites. The Immaculate Virgin Mother of God could not be in need of any sort of purification. Giving birth to the Son of God could only have increased her holiness, not diminished it! Jesus was the firstborn, but He was the firstborn of God the Father, to Whom He would always belong, and from Whom He could never be “bought back.” Indeed, Jesus was born into the world, precisely so that He could be the Father's eternal priest and sacrificial victim.

This presentation in the Temple was also the occasion on which Jesus was placed in the arms of the aging prophet, Simeon—a man who had been promised by the Holy Ghost that he would not face death until he had seen the Lord's Anointed One—the “Christ” of the Lord. Simeon's canticle on this occasion gives us the motivation for blessing the coming year's candles, for as he said, the Christ was: “A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

Simeon ought to inspire us with his zeal for all that is holy. We have no idea how many years he spent long hours in the Temple. He knew that he would see the Christ of the Lord, but the promise indicated only that it would be before he died. So, day in and day out he prayed before the court of the priests. When we realize that God really and truly dwelt in the Holy of Holies, we can think of Simeon as the forerunner of those religious who spend their days in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. If we read just a few more verses from Saint Luke's Gospel we will learn that a prophetess named Anna also spent most of her time praying in the Temple.[2] Adoration is a holy thing, both for men and for women, even for a few moments at a time if it cannot be perpetual.

Churching of Women[3]

Celebration of this feast also calls to mind the custom of Catholic mother's making a sort of pilgrimage to their parish church as soon as they have recovered from the physical difficulties of childbirth. We call this the “churching” of the mother. This differs from the Old Testament “purification,” as the New Testament doesn't envision any sort of impurity caused by pregnancy or childbirth. The mother may come to church without her child if that is the more practical thing to do--and she should receive the blessing even if the child was stillborn or died before Baptism. The brief blessing thanks God for the gift of new life, and asks Him to bless the woman as she raises the child. A variant of the blessing is recited if the child has died. While the woman is dispensed from Mass attendance while needing to recover from childbirth, she is expected to return to Mass as soon as possible, even if the blessing must be delayed. There is also a blessing for expectant mothers.

So today we contemplate the value of selfless obedience to God's laws, even if we are not strictly obligated. One may argue about the laws of the Church since they have become so confused during the past sixty years or so. But, no matter what has been set aside, we cannot deny that things like Friday abstinence and Lenten penance are part of our Catholic identity—they help us to know what we are, and they help to make the Church visible to this outside of her told.

Likewise, today we contemplate the value of praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Almighty God is present in our Tabernacles, even more so than He was in the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem. We have the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In apprehending the real presence of God, we can say with the old man Simeon:

«Now Lord, Thou mayest dismiss Thy servant, in peace according to The word, for my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast set before the nations: a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Isræl.»


[1] Gospel: Luke ii:22-32

[2] Luke ii:36-39


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