Today’s Gospel reading is among my favourites. On this day of the Presentation of the Lord, we read verses 22 to 40 from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
And when the day came for them to be purified in keeping with the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – observing what is written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is prescribed in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to the restoration of Israel and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said: Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace as you promised; for my eyes have seen the salvation which you have made ready in the sight of the nations; a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel.
As the child’s father and mother were wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’
There was a prophetess, too, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came up just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.
It is a very rich text. It starts out with a firm connection to the Old Testament; the Law of Moses, which Mary and Joseph intend to fulfill by consecrating their first-born to the Lord.
In Simeon and Anna they encounter a link to the future, the coming salvation of Israel. The expectation of Simeon and the elation of Anna are touching. After a long life they find peace in God’s fulfilled promise to His people. Simeon’s prayer is one that the Church still prays every night at compline, the last prayers of the day.
The Church sees Simeon warning to Mary – ‘Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare’ – as a warning to the Church. Christ is indeed a sign that is opposed. We see that every day, and as such the Church will always meet opposition too. In fact, it may be one of her purposes, to lay bare the secrets thoughts of many. Christ is confrontational.
Of course, for Mary personally, Simeon’s words are prophetic too. Her soul would indeed be pierced when she stands under the Cross.
The Church traditionally celebrates this feast with a procession with and blessing of candles. Christ is symbolised by the candles as the light of the world, and brought into His temple, the altar in the sanctuary.