Monday, February 1, 2010

On the Presentation of the Lord

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord brings to an official end the Christmas-Epiphany cycle. See The Gospels of the Epiphany - Part 2.

In this light, it would be beneficial to us to look at our Lord's presentation in the light of the manifestations which make up the Epiphanies of our Lord. On Christmas midnight, the angels which appeared to the shepherds revealed to them the birth of one who is "the Christ and Lord." At the Epiphany, a star revealed to the magi the birth of "a great king." At the Baptism in the Jordan, the Father revealed Jesus as his only-begotten Son in whom he is well pleased. On the following Sunday, Christ revealed himself through the changing of water into wine at Cana. Today, it is the Holy Spirit's turn to reveal Jesus. Today's Gospel speaks of that prophet Simeon as a man "who was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him...He came in the Spirit into the temple." I find it significant that the Holy Spirit should have the final word in this series of epiphanies because it is the work of the Holy Spirit to give witness to Jesus in the final age.

What does the Holy Spirit say about Jesus in today's mystery? First, the Holy Spirit points to Jesus as God. The Presentation of the Lord in the temple fulfills the prophecy of Malachi who in the first reading said: "Suddenly, there will come into the temple the Lord whom you seek." The original temple was built by Solomon and on the day of the building's consecration, the Ark of the Covenant (which bears the throne of mercy) was enthroned in the Holy of holies. A thick cloud descended upon the temple. So thick was it that the priests were unable to perform their duties as they could not see through the cloud. This cloud is the cloud of God's presence (the Shekinah) which descended on Mount Sinai and also led the the people through the desert (the pillar of cloud and the column of fire). In the time of Ezekiel, as the enemies were at the gates of Jerusalem and the temple was to fall into ruin, the prophet saw the cloud of Divine Presence leaving the temple through the eastern gate and the Ark of the Covenant mysteriously disappeared. Today, the Holy Spirit pointed to Simeon the return of the Lord who was enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant: the Baby Jesus on the arms of our Lady. Indeed, God returns to his temple and his faithful few (Simeon and Annah) were there to meet him. Thus, in the Eastern churches, this feast is called "Hypapante" meaning "The Meeting or Encounter."

Secondly, the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus as the High Priest. The second reading, taken from the letter to the Hebrews, speaks of the Lord as High Priest: "He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way; that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of his people." The ritual of the presentation has for its purpose the consecration of the first born son: "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord." Our Lady brings her child to the temple to consecrate him to the Lord. This consecration marks God's ownership over Jesus. Jesus belongs to God as a priest is consecrated (or belongs) to God. In the Gospel of John, our Lord himself said, "for their sakes, I have consecrated myself to the truth. Your word is truth."

Lastly, the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus as the Victim of the Sacrifice. Two turtle doves were required of the poor in order to "redeem" the first born son. This redeeming of the first born comes from that story of the night of the Exodus when the angel of death descended on the land of Egypt in order to slay all the first born sons in the land. To spare the lives of their own first borns, the Israelites had to kill an unblemished lamb and used its blood to paint the lintel of their doors. Thus, the lives of the first born was spared at the expense of the life of the lamb. However, when our Lady brought her child to the temple, she was not able to "buy back" her Son at the price of the turtledoves because her Son was destined to be "the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted." Her Son will expiate the sins of men. Mary's brought into the temple the greatest offering which the temple has ever seen: the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Thus, today's feast, which crowns the Christmas-Epiphany mysteries, manifests Christ in his relationship with the temple: He is the Temple's God, its High Priest, and its unblemished Victim. This is the Christ that we meet in the temple today. Like wise virgins with lighted candles in our hands, we proceed in peace to meet Christ the Lord. Behold, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God descends upon the altar, upon the paten which is comparable to the throne of mercy. Through the person of the priest, Christ offers his sacrifice. And he is the Sacrifice itself for what is offered is not the body of the human priest but the Body and Blood of Jesus. Glory to You, O Jesus, who is the God we worship, the High Priest who intercedes and the Victim who expiates our sins. Glory to You for ever!

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