Candlemas: Anticipating the Paschal Light of Christ

Friday 2nd February 2024

Today we celebrate the feast of The Presentation of The Lord, or Candlemas – the day Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem, revealing Him to us as the Messiah and light to the gentiles.

Taking place 40 days after Christmas, many Christians traditionally celebrate the feast as the end of the Christmas season, but it can also reveal an inspiring insight into the next phase of our liturgical calendar, tying together the seasons of Christmas, Lent, and Easter.

Join us as we explore the themes and characters of this feast to reflect on what’s to come and how God invites us to respond in preparation for Lent.

The Purification of Mary

The presentation of Jesus at the temple signals the end of Mary’s 40-day period of purification, a custom prescribed by Jewish law to all new mothers. In today’s Gospel, we learn that Mary – despite being the immaculate mother of Christ – is no exception, and also obediently enters into this time of purification before presenting Jesus at the temple.

As we look at this story through the lens of Lent, we can perhaps recognise some similarities between this tradition and our own Lenten observances.

However, unlike Mary, our need is for spiritual cleansing and it is Jesus alone who is the one to purify us.

As such, we are called to follow Mary in entering our own 40-day period of “purification”, in which we step away from the distractions, temptations, and indulgences of our every day lives to allow Christ to work in us, inviting Him to purify our hearts through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

This image depicts Simeon holding the Christ child, surrounded by Our Lady, St Joseph, and Anna.

Jesus presented at the temple

The other core theme of this wonderful feast is the consecration of Jesus – the firstborn son – to God.

Luke’s Gospel says: “As it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every firstborn male is to be dedicated to The Lord.”

As the second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Himself is Lord, but still He humbles Himself to becoming like us in all things, including this act of consecration.

During His presentation, Jesus is met with Simeon and Anna – two people who have dedicated their lives to holiness, and meet the Christ child with great joy.

The idea of Jesus dwelling among us and presenting Himself at the temple invites us to draw a parallel to His presence in our lives today, especially in the new temple – the tabernacle – and we are called to greet Him there with the same joy and thanksgiving as Simeon and Anna through prayer and in receiving of the sacraments.

This image depicts Jesus being presented at The Temple, with St Joseph offering the customary offering of two pigeons or turtledoves.

The Salvation and the Light

As one of the key characters in today’s Gospel, Simeon’s patience and faith can teach us so much about putting our hope in the Lord.

Hope is a huge part of our Catholic faith but it offers us so much more than mere optimism – it is a deep-rooted certainty that God will deliver on His promises.

The Gospel reveals that Simeon was a “God-fearing man” who kept faith with God’s promise that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah.

Upon seeing Jesus, Simeon says: “Now, Lord, you have kept your promise, and you may let your servant go in peace.

“With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel.”

These remarkable words carry huge significance, announcing the infant Jesus as the Messiah and the light to the whole world.

As we look ahead to the coming weeks of Lent and Easter, we use Simeon’s words to remind us of the path Jesus will embark on for us, and how His triumph over death will bring light and true hope to all mankind.

However, Simeon also presents us with a choice – a challenge.

Speaking to Mary, he continued: “This child is chosen by God for the fall and rise of many in Israel.”

Through His death and resurrection, Christ offers us the full redemptive power of the Father’s mercy – but it remains up to us to accept it.

This choice is a constant narrative that runs throughout scripture: the Book of Deuteronomy calls us to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20), while Christ Himself declares “whoever is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30), and St Paul urges the Corinthians: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20).

Now, as we approach the season of Lent, Simeon puts that choice to us once again: will we accept Christ’s saving help? Will we realign our hearts and minds to God?

Join us in a few weeks’ time as we journey together through Lent, echoing the themes and examples of this feast to help us truly choose the life, light and salvation of Christ this Easter.

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