The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord
The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord. This day brings to an end our observation of the great events of Christmas and Epiphany, and appropriately, gives us to ponder a somewhat obscure event in our Lord’s life, the occasion of his mother’s purification according to Old Testament law and His presentation in the Temple. The beautiful song of Simeon is featured in the readings these days. I encourage you to pay particularly close attention to the lovely Bach Motet based on the words of Simeon, which he composed early in his career for the funeral of the daughter of one of the pastors in Muhlhausen, where Bach was working at the time. The Cantata is titled God’s Time is Always the Best Time. I’ve put it in the extended entry, with the performance first, followed by the words in German and English.
The Presentation of Our Lord at the Temple, one of the Christological feasts of the Christian Church, is Scripture’s final infancy narrative concerning Jesus. After the Presentation, the Bible says nothing more about Him until His twelfth year.
Many liturgical calendars name this the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, emphasizing its Marian connection. Still another term used is Candlemas, drawing the name from the tradition of blessing the coming year’s church candles on this day.
Saint Luke is the only one of the Evangelists to describe the event (see Luke 2:22-40), something likely unfamiliar to most of his Gentile readers. According to the Gospel, Mary and Joseph took the Baby to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth to consecrate Jesus to God and to complete the ritual purification of Mary, both because of the command of God’s Law (Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16; Leviticus 12).
Upon entering the temple, the family encountered the devout and holy Simeon. Luke records that he was promised that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:26)” Simeon took Jesus into his arms, prayed the prayer that would become known as the Nunc Dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon, blessed the parents, and prophesied regarding Jesus and Mary.
The prophetess Anna (2:36-38) was also in the temple. She, too, offered prayers and praise to God for sending the Savior.
In the Western liturgical calendar, the Presentation of Our Lord falls on 2 February because this is forty days after Christmas, the celebration of His birth. It is the last festival determined by the date of Christmas and thus shows that the Epiphany season is drawing to a close. Most churches in the East observe the occasion on 14 February since they celebrate Christ’s Nativity on 6 January.