Views from the Pews: Marking the end of festive season

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bishop philip-james osb

This reminds us that the Christmas stories about Jesus in Luke’s Gospel came to an end 40 days after Christmas Day with the celebration of the presentation of Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:22-40).

Let me just clarify what the presentation is about - the presentation of Jesus is not celebrating the circumcision of Jesus. Circumcision is performed eight days after birth and we kept that feast as ever on 1 January.

The presentation of Jesus in the temple served two purposes; the first is the redemption of the first-born child and the second is the purification of Mary. The first-born belonged to the Lord according to the Book of Exodus 13:1-2 but Numbers 18:15-16 tells us the first-born could be redeemed or bought back by paying five shekels.

The purification of the mother in Jewish Law (Leviticus 12) was purification from ritual uncleanness after childbirth, very much the same as we used to call the churching of women after childbirth, now the thanksgiving after childbirth for those who still wish to do so.

Of course Our Lady did not need this purification because she was a virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus but underwent it to fulfil the Law.

The purification was normally performed in the local synagogue but Mary and Joseph decided it should take place in the temple. If the family could afford it they would offer a one year old lamb, but if not they would offer two young pigeons.

This is Jesus’ first visit of many to the temple. It is the fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi, “suddenly there will come to the temple, the Lord whom you seek...” (Malachi 3:1).

Malachi offered another fascinating prophecy, that everywhere from east to west a sacrifice and pure offering would be offered to God (Malachi 1:11).

The early Christians saw Malachi’s prophecy of a pure sacrifice and offering from east to west as a prophecy of the sacrifice of the Mass. That interpretation found its way into the Magisterium (the teaching of the church) when the Council of Trent (Doctrine on the Sacrifice of the Mass) also interpreted Malachi as prophesying the eucharist, the Holy Mass.

So Malachi prophecies that the Lord will enter his temple, there will be a renewed priesthood, and there will be a pure sacrifice – the Holy Mass - offered worldwide pleasing to God.

When Jesus was presented in the temple everything foreseen in Malachi was already beginning to unfold and would be fully unfolded when Jesus would die on the cross and his priests of the New Covenant would continue to make that sacrifice present in the pure sacrifice of the Mass offered from east to west.

Therefore Jesus is indeed the light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of Israel as Simeon prophesied (Luke 2:32). Simeon was awaiting the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit enlightened him to know that that consolation was now beginning to occur with the birth of Jesus.

The prophetess Anna was awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem and she was also enlightened to know that this redemption was now beginning to occur in Jesus and she spoke about Jesus to all awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).

Simeon awaiting the consolation of Israel and Anna awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem see their hopes fulfilled in Jesus, as we do.

Now that we have truly come to the end of the season that concentrates on the Nativity of Our Lord (don’t believe it all ends just when the television adverts tell you so) I can now say “I hope you had a good un”.