The Presentation: An Offertory of ‘The Light of the Nations’
Just as Jesus gradually reveals God to us, so the Christmas feasts that culminate in the Presentation also point to offertory.
Feb. 2 is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Known unofficially as Candlemas (because it was the day candles were blessed in church), it remains — at least for some diehards — the end of the Christmas season, when Christmas trees were taken down and decorations put away.
I’d like to share some reflections on the Presentation, culled from Ven. Tomás Morales, founder of the secular institutes of the Crusaders of Mary (male and female). Father Morales’ cause for the altar is pending. The reflections are drawn from his Semblanzas de Testigos de Cristo para los Nuevos Tiempos [Testimonies of the Witnesses of Christ for a New Times], his 12-volume reflection on feasts and saints in the Church’s calendar.
The Presentation Completes Christmas
Father Morales, in line with the tradition, sees the Presentation as part of the Christmas ensemble of feasts: the Nativity, the Epiphany and the Presentation. Christ is born, he is adored by the Magi, and he is presented in the Temple.
Jesus’ Presentation stands in intrinsic relation to the preceding feasts, which contain a progressive revelation of Christ to all of humanity. At his Birth, Jesus is revealed to Mary and Joseph and then to the shepherds. At the Epiphany, he is revealed to the nations — personified by the Magi — who accept him, and to Jerusalem which rejects him. At the Presentation, he is again revealed as “the Light to the Nations and the Glory of Your People, Israel” — yet one who will be a “sign of contradiction” that will “the downfall and rise of many in Israel.”
This notion of “light,” of God’s glory and revelation, is part of all these feasts. The shepherds find themselves encircled by the light of “the glory of the Lord [which] shown around them” (Luke 2:9). The Magi find the Christ Child thanks to a star (Matthew 2: 2b, 9). Isaiah (9:2) prophesies (a prophecy cited in the First Reading of Midnight Mass and repeated in last week’s First Reading) that “the people who dwelt in darkness have seen a great light,” a foretelling fulfilled in the advent of Christ along the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:12-17), the appearance of “the light of the world” (John 8:12), a luminosity in which the Christian should share (Matthew 5:14-16).
The Church celebrates the coming of him who is “the Light to the Nations and the Glory of Your People, Israel” to his Temple by blessing candles and carrying them in procession during Mass on the Feast of the Presentation. Once upon a time, it was a common practice among Catholics to keep blessed candles at home as sacramentals, to be lit in times of danger, be it sickness and death or during storms (see the “Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy,” nos. 120, 123). Consider, also, that in the absence of electric lights, Christmas trees were also once upon a time decked out with candles. Take a candle with you to Church Sunday to be blessed, and keep it at home.
The Presentation is an Offertory
Just as Jesus gradually reveals God to us, so the Christmas feasts that culminate in the Presentation also point to offertory. Specifically, for Ven. Tomás Morales, the offertory of the Presentation is threefold, and it is offered by Mary. Mary, bringing Jesus in her arms to what is, in reality, his and his Father’s House (cf. Luke 2:49 at a later mystery, the Finding in the Temple), offers him in three ways.
First, as “the first offertory of the world.” In her “immaculate arms [she] offers him to the Father a Pure Host, the prelude of millions of offertories.” As truly human, she — as the first and most perfect disciple — also offers him on behalf of her brothers and sisters. In a sense, Father Morales speaks of her as the first “monstrance,” a living “ostensorium” whose arms present the Living God to the Father and our gaze.
Second, as an offering unto suffering. In presenting Jesus, she also receives Simeon’s prophecy that he would be a “sign of contradiction” that divides people, a sign that will be rejected (already foretold in Herod’s court), one who will suffer and with whom Mary, too, would suffer. As Jesus will himself make clear — often to the displeasure of his audience and even his disciples — suffering would be an integral part of his Mission: the one offered is offered in suffering, a Savior and Messiah whose Mission is inseparable from his Passion.
Third, as an offering of herself. In her “yes” to God, Mary also and again expresses her fiat to his path of suffering. What she stores, from the Nativity forward, she stores in a heart that is pierced (Luke 2: 19, 35). And no Christian can truly be part of any offertory unless he includes the self he is ready to lose (Luke 17:33; 9:24; John 12:25; Matthew 16:25). Perhaps we find Simeon’s prophecy cruel: “we don’t understand it with our pagan reason,” writes Father Morales. Exactly! Just as Peter, on a purely human level, calls for Jesus to avoid the Passion and is called a “Satan” in reply (Matthew 16:23). Just as the modern world deems suffering senseless. But “it is the Holy Spirit that moved the lips of Simeon to shatter the Virgin’s heart” and it is she who, “humbly and obediently” once again submits, even if the Virgin Mother also becomes the Mother of Sorrows. “Like her, let me also receive, with a shattered heart, but one resigned to Your holy Will.” That is the essence of Mary’s fiat. Her’s is a missionary heart of love.
I would also suggest an additional parallel between Jesus and Mary. In earlier times, this feast was known as the “Presentation of Jesus and the Purification of Mary,” in keeping with the Old Testament prescriptions for post-partum ritual impurity found in Leviticus 12. But, as Father Morales notes, in going to the Temple the Immaculate Virgin “subjects herself to a law that does not [truly] bind her,” just as Jesus — who does not need any baptism of repentance — submits to John’s (see Matthew 3:14-15). Mary’s humility is also underscored by her purificatory offering: “two doves or young pigeons” (Luke 2:24), the substitute offering for a lamb Leviticus 12:8 permitted for a “woman who cannot afford” the more costly sacrifice. But the precious offering, the Lamb of God she has brought today to the Temple is more purifying and speaks “more eloquently than [even] the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24) or any other lamb.