7th February, 2020

Homily for the Presentation of The Lord


Please see below Fr Gabriel's Homily for the Presentation of The Lord:

Today’s feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple looks back to and concludes our celebration of Christmas and Epiphany. It is also called Candlemas because traditionally on this day candles are blessed and carried in procession. This is a reference to the words of Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis in today’s Gospel, that we have just heard, that the light has come into the world to enlighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of God’s people Israel. These are also words that we hear every time that we are at Compline.

This theme of light is a Christmas and Epiphany theme, the light coming into a dark and cold world. And it has also been a leitmotiv in every Mass so far in this inevitably rather dark and cold Lent term (though it could be worse). So on the feast of Christ’s Baptism at the beginning of term in the first reading, Isaiah chapter 42: ‘I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations’. The following Sunday, Ordinary 2, from Isaiah chapter 49 ‘I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth’. Then last Sunday, Ordinary 3, from Isaiah chapter 8 and repeated in last Sunday’s Gospel: ‘The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light’. And now today, at this Mass, we share in holy Simeon’s joy that in the Christ child brought to the Temple, God has come to enlighten us and to bring us to glory. Your servants, Lord, may indeed depart – go forth – in peace.

Yet at the same time, today’s feast is a hinge in the Liturgical Year, in that it also looks ahead to the purpose of the Incarnation and to our celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection in the Easter mystery. The Temple, to which the Lord comes and is presented, is the place of sacrifice and of redemption. We reach down, not without some disturbance of mind and comfort for modern man, to old laws of God’s dealings with human kind. Every first born is to be sacrificed to the Lord, albeit commuted in the substitutionary offering: ‘to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons’. In the foreknowledge and plan of God, in the case of Jesus, this commuting sacrifice is only temporary and points ahead to his death in literal truth upon the grim altar of the Cross, a lamb offered for our redemption, which will tear the curtain of the Temple from top to bottom. And Mary is told by Simeon that a sword will pierce her own soul also. As for her so for us. As the opening prayer of today’s Mass asked: ‘so, by your grace, may [we] be presented to you with minds made pure’. We must realize that this presenting and purification calls for a sacrifice in our own lives, which will be worked out by God for each of us in our own particular and individual way. We are called to share in the sacrifice of Jesus and in the offering of Mary.

Does this sound fearful? In a way of course it is. But it is the sacrifice which brings us the new life and light of Easter. Sacrifice leads to communion. We become the holy people of God. This is also a theme, the third and final one, I am wanting to touch on in today’s celebration. Pope Francis likes to point out that this feast in the Eastern Christian world is known as the feast of Encounter: in the meeting of Joseph and Mary, Simeon and Anna with Jesus at the centre is the birth of a community of encounter of all ages and generations. We meet one another in community that in one another we may meet Jesus. Pope Francis goes on in one of his homilies for this feast: ‘And while worldly life soon leaves our hands and hearts empty, life in Jesus fills with peace to the very end, as in the Gospel where Simeon and Anna come happily to the sunset of their lives with the Lord in their arms and joy in their hearts’. Truly you have to be mad not to want this.

Jesus is the Word of God and we read this word in a book, the Bible. But the very mysterious and wonderful thing about this prayerful reading, this lectio divina (but it is the doing it which matters not the fancy phrase) which is offered to all of us, alone or with others, is that in this reading we meet him, a living person, a living word, who has made us, who loves us, who guides us together to himself, who wants to be in communion with us. Say Amen to this in your communion.