I have loved tomorrow’s feast day, the Presentation of the Lord, ever since I first celebrated it in our Community. It is hard to put into words what it means to me, but I think what attracts me and fascinates me is the richness of symbols contained in its celebration: light and darkness, the blessing of candles, and the procession with lit candles.
Christ is the light of the nations, hence the blessing of candles and the tradition of calling it Candlemas. For many years we had a vigil prayer service before the feast in which each Sister brought a candle of her own to the vigil and placed it on the altar or on a separate table in front of the altar or in the aisle between the choir stalls. Some were brand new and never used. Some were already burned down from use during many times of personal prayer. They were a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some were thin; some were fat. Some were tall; some were short. Just like the Sisters who brought them, no two candles were alike, but when a Sister-acolyte lit them, they all gave glorious and beautiful light. What a symbol of our own participation in the light of Christ!
In an internet search in preparation for this article, I learned that the Eastern Church calls the Presentation the “Feast of the Encounter.” It is Jesus’ first time going to the temple where he encounters, Simeon and Anna who prophesy about him, but it is also an encounter between the Old and the New Covenants. Jesus, the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, brings us the New Covenant in the Eucharist.
Here are a few other delightful things I learned from the Eastern tradition on the website for the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon
• This is another ‘epiphany’ celebration. Just as Christ was manifested to the Gentiles in the persons of the magi, Christ is manifested in the temple to Simeon and Anna representing Israel’s faithful.
• After a life of prayer, Simeon and Anna are alive to the unexpectedness of God’s providence.
• Anna’s father is named, Phanuel, which means ‘face of God.’ This is a nice touch by the evangelist. Anna is a prophet who recognizes the Christ, and her father’s name means ‘face of God.’
• Simeon means ‘He who has seen God’.
• On this Feast Day, each one of us ought to be a Temple of God to which Mary brings Jesus. And each should, like Simeon, take the Child in our arms and say to the Father, “My eyes have seen your salvation.”
I also found this homily by St. Sophronios of Jerusalem (C. 636 AD) on the website of the Eparchy of Newton, Melkite Greek Catholic Church:
In honor of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light. Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the One who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of His eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.
The most-pure Virgin, Theotokos, carried the True Light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the True Light as we hasten to meet him.
The Light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This then is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the Light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through Him. So, let us hasten all together to meet our God.
Let all of us be enlightened and made radiant by this Light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness.
By Sister Karen Ann Lortscher, OSB
photo: from First Heralds website