Forty days have passed since we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. Today, we celebrate his Presentation in the Temple. It may seem at first that this feast merely recalls what Mary and Joseph did in ritual compliance with the law; they took their child to the Temple and offered “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” However, when we ponder the Gospel account, we find that there is much more to it.
What is the deeper meaning of this feast and what is its significance for us? In the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, God’s plan for salvation as announced in the Scriptures is revealed as being fulfilled. Christ the Savior and the Light of the world has been born, and today he enters for the first time into the temple. The prophecy of Malachi which we have as today’s first reading is fulfilled: “And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek.” Today, it is the Lord God himself, the King of Glory, who enters the temple as an infant in the arms of his mother. Thus today’s Responsorial Psalm says: “Lift up, O gates, your lintels; reach up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may come in!”
The temple had very great significance in the lives of the Israelites. It was the place where sacrifices were offered and prayers were made to God. It was the place where people encountered the holy presence of God, the place where God lived among his people, giving them their identity and purpose as his chosen ones. It is significant, then, that the Lord Jesus enters the temple today. All three readings give us insight into the purpose of his Presentation. The prophet Malachi tells us: “He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.” The prophet’s words reveal that the temple with its sacrifices and ministers was not perfect; it needed purification. So when Christ enters the temple, he comes to do a work of purification, so that fitting and acceptable sacrifice may be offered to the Lord.
Since Christ is both God and man, there is a deeper significance in his coming. He has come not only to purify the temple but to fulfill its true purpose by revealing himself as the temple in person. He himself is the preeminent “place” of man’s encounter with God. He has come as the new and eternal High Priest to offer the one perfect sacrifice. He is the unblemished Lamb, the Victim of the new, eternal and perfect sacrifice that will bring God’s peace, blessings, light and salvation to the whole world through the offering of his Body and Blood on the altar of the Cross.
Today’s second reading, taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, gives a clear testimony to this truth of faith. Jesus, it says, shared fully in our blood and flesh, that is, he was truly man, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” The Death of Christ, the offering of his life for our life, is foreshadowed in the event we are celebrating today. In the Presentation of the Lord in the temple, Christ is revealed as “a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.” Now anyone who wants to encounter God can come, not to the temple in Jerusalem but to Jesus Christ. Now it is he who is the holy presence of God among his people, giving us our identity and purpose.
Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the devout and upright man Simeon looks at the child Jesus and sees beyond the appearance of a poor helpless infant in the arms of his young mother. He announces that Jesus is the light of the world, and he tells Mary his mother that this light is “a sign that will be contradicted.” It is a prophecy of Christ’s Passion and Death. Simeon also prophesies that Mary herself will share very closely and deeply in her Son’s work of our redemption: “and you yourself a sword will pierce.”
At the Eucharistic Sacrifice, Jesus the eternal High Priest renews and makes present the sacrifice of our redemption – foreshadowed in the event of the Presentation and actualized on the Cross. When Jesus was pierced by the lance, his mother felt the pain; for though he was already dead, a mystical sword of sorrow pierced her Immaculate Heart. Through our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ the Light and salvation of the world comes to us and we can have access to the peace and the salvation he offers. There is no better place of encounter between God and us than in the Holy Eucharist. There is no better place to find our identity and to receive enlightenment than at the Holy Mass.
When we are at Mass, we meet the same Lord and Savior whom Simeon and Anna met in the temple in Jerusalem. These devout elders marveled, rejoiced and gave thanks to be in the presence of the “glory of Israel,” the light and salvation of the world. What a privilege it is for us to be with him! Jesus, under the humble appearance of Bread, comes to us. He comes to purify us, to enlighten us, to save us. Like Simeon and Anna, let us marvel, rejoice and give thanks!
Like Simeon and Anna, do I humbly long for the coming of the Lord each day? Do I ponder on the truth that my soul is the temple of the Holy Spirit? Am I aware of the power and efficacy of the Mass and the Eucharist in my life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.