Sunday, February 2, 2014

Candlemas Day

Today is the fortieth day after the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, and so the liturgical celebrations of today mark the adherence to the law of Moses by Joseph and our blessed Lady, who herself was purified in the Temple and whose Son was brought forth to be presented to God like each of the firstborn of Israel, in commemoration of our merciful God saving them while allowing the firstborn Egyptians to perish.

Recall that Our Lady was conceived without sin, and given that the need for ritual purification is due to the Fall, she had no need for this. Remarkably, she displayed obedience to the legal commandments of Israel, and this is even more true for Our Lord. He is God! For us Christians this serves as a signal to us that the commandments become a redundancy in our lives, for we must love one another as Our Lord loves us. When we look at the Ten Commandments, the precepts of the Church, or her moral teachings, we should say to ourselves, "I'm already doing this out of love for You, My Lord and My God." There is no greater witness to this fidelity than Our Lady.

The Gospel today presents the old man Simeon who has been promised by the Holy Spirit that he might see His visible image before his passage from earthly life, in reward for his justice and devotion. In the 17th century, after the Wars of Religion had left Europe devastated and without much pious devotion, the priest maintaining the shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague heard a voice from Heaven. The message concluded, ""The more you honor Me, the more I will bless you!" We should look to the piety and humility of Simeon as an example. But we cannot do this alone! "And the Holy Ghost was in him...," thus he believed and did good works. I think one can make an argument for this passage showing us the operation of grace. Certainly Simeon's canticle shows that salvation is found through the person of Jesus Christ, whose words, actions, and being are so profoundly wound up in one another.

And how profoundly humbling and paradoxical this event is. Today's Offertory in the vetus ordo comes from St. Augustine. Alleluia, alleluia. Senex puerem portabat: Puer autem senem regebat. Alleluia. An old man was carrying a Child; but the Child was the old man's Lord.

Although His saving mission had not yet been accomplished, since Our Lord is God eternal, He always is omnipotent and omniscient, even as a small child. The devotion to the Infant Jesus is ancient, and in more recent times He is often shown robed as King, with the image of His Most Sacred Heart, the place from where His Love and Mercy flow, visible.

One final note: the Gospel in the newer lectionary is slightly longer, comprising also the encounter with the widow Anna. Her example is one for the Christian: to spend the entirety of one's day in prayer and sacrifice to God. We should ask that everything we do to become a prayer and to be sanctified.

The Church's celebration of Christmas is now complete, for we have looked back upon the festival of the Nativity, and we look forward now to the Passion of Our Lord.

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