Forty days after Christmas, the Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of our Lord. The event which the Church commemorates on this feast is described in its Gospel: “And when the days of her purification were fulfilled according to the Law of Moses, they took Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, as it is written in the Law of the Lord: Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. And behold, there was in Jerusalem a man named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by inspiration of the Holy Spirit into the Temple. And when his parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he also received Him into his arms and blessed God …” (Lk. 2:22-28).
From the words of the Gospel and from the Liturgical texts for the feast, it is evident that it has a threefold character: the purification of Mary, the redemption of Jesus as first-born Son, and the meeting of Jesus with the aged Simeon and the prophetess Anna.
According to the Mosaic Law, a mother who had given birth to a boy was considered unclean for seven days, then for 33 days was excluded from public worship. When the appointed forty days were past, she was expected to offer a sacrifice for her purification – “a lamb for a holocaust and a pigeon for a turtle dove for a sin offering.” In case of poverty, however, two young pigeons or turtle doves would suffice. The priest then prayed for her, “purifying” her and restoring her to her former status. Sacred Scripture tells us that the Mother of God fulfilled this law despite the fact that, considering the spirit of this legal enactment, she was not bound to it. Mary was the chaste Spouse of the Holy Spirit, virgin in conceiving and virgin in giving birth to her Son. Yet the Holy Spirit inspired her to comply with this law and she fulfilled the will of God, embracing it with her whole heart.
The second aspect of this feast is the presentation of Jesus in the temple. By another ordinance of the Mosaic Law, every first-born was considered as belonging to God and had to be brought back by an offering. The Mother of God fulfilled this also. She brought Jesus to the Temple to present Him according to the command of the Lord “Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.
According to the Gospels, on the same occasion as the presentation of the Child Jesus, another significant encounter took place. There was then living in Jerusalem an old man, Simeon by name, whose heart longed unceasingly for the Messias. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he should not die without first seeing the Lord’s Anointed. Led by the Spirit, Simeon went to the Temple at the time Mary and Joseph were bringing In the Child Jesus. Mary, guided by the same Holy Spirit, welcomed the saintly man and placed her divine Son in his trembling hands.
Besides Simeon, the prophetess Anna, Phanuel’s daughter, was there to meet the child Jesus. The holy Anna was noted for her piety and was venerated by the people because of her great age. Simeon and Anna are thus representatives of the Old Testament, gathered to celebrate the happy coming of the Child who was to renew the face of the earth.
The solemn presentation of Christ in the house of God was celebrated in early times. Several learned writers, among them Pope Benedict XIV, are of the opinion that the feast, was instituted by the apostles themselves; there is no doubt that the event itself was solemnly commemorated in the Church of Jerusalem by the end of the fourth century. But the feast at that time had no proper name; it was simply called the fortieth day after the Nativity. From Jerusalem the observance of the feast spread throughout the entire Church and celebrated on February 14. When the feast of the Nativity was transferred from January 6 to December 25, the Presentation was also transferred to February 2.
It seems probable that, in Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, the feast was introduced by Emperor Justinian I. A great earthquake and the plague which followed, caused frightful mortality among the inhabitants of Constantinople. As soon as the disaster had passed, the Emperor, as a token of thanksgiving, ordered the feast of the Presentation to be observed for the first time in 542 A.D.. as is recorded by the chronicler, Theophanes. Special devotions were instituted in honor of the Mother of God and the feast of the Presentation was established as a reminder of Mary’s protection.
On this day candles are blessed. Liturgists disagree about the origin of his ceremony. Some would connect it with a pagan ceremony, the Lupercalia, which was celebrated in Rome in early February. During the ceremony, lighted torches were carried through the streets of the city. Although this opinion seems reasonable, the Church having always sought to draw her faithful from pagan celebrations by fillings them with Christian meanings, there is still no reliable evidence that this was the origin. Processions, with or without lights, were common among both Christians and heathens in early times and no historical connection can be safely inferred between the Lupercalia and the feast of the Presentation. Besides, the blessings of candles did not become common before the eleventh century.
The Feast is known under two names: the Presentation of our Lord and the Meeting, referring to the encounter of the Child Jesus with Simeon and Anna. In the Roman rite, the feast is called the Purification and is counted as a feast of the Blessed Virgin. The Byzantine rite reckons this feast among those of our Lord, calling it the Presentation of our Lord in honor of our Savior who this day was brought to the temple.
The feast of the Presentation has a one-day pre-festive period. The length of the post-festive period depends upon the celebrations of Easter, since its celebration must be completed before the beginning of Lent. As a rule, however, the post-festive period lasts until February 9th.
Next Feast Days
|January 30||Feasts of the Three Holy Hierarchs|
|February 2||Presentation of our Lord|
|March 25||Annunciation of the Mother of God|
|April 23||Feast of St. George, the Great Martyr|