Presentation of the Lord
February 2, 2014
Normally we would be celebrating the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time today but instead we are celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
There are not many feast days that take precedence over our normal Sunday celebrations. The way the secular calendar aligns with the church calendar, there will be four or five this year.
So, if it is uncommon for this to happen, what makes this feast so important?
First, today is forty days after Jesus’ birth at Christmas. In the Jewish customs of Jesus’ day, forty days after the birth of a child, the mother went to the temple for a purification ritual and the male children were brought to the temple to be consecrated to the Lord. These are the events that we hear about in today’s gospel.
With its ties to the birth of Jesus, this feast used to mark the end of the Christmas season, highlighting the importance of this feast.
When this feast was still part of the Christmas season, the blessing of candles became part of the celebration. In Simeon’s words in the temple he identifies Jesus as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”
Jesus is our light in that through him we see things differently. We regularly use candles to remind us of the Light of Christ. Every time we celebrate Mass we use candles to symbolize Jesus becoming present in the Eucharist.
We always have a sanctuary lamp with a candle burning next to the tabernacle to signify Jesus is present. We also use the Paschal Candle at Easter and for baptisms and funerals to remind us how we receive the Light of Christ in baptism and carry that light to our death.
Just like we use candles to remind us of Jesus, we use other “things” in our sacraments. We use water, oils, and bread and wine. Let’s face it, we are a sacramental people.
Please note that I said sacramental, not sacrament. We have our seven sacraments where we receive God’s grace in very special ways.
But being a sacramental people goes beyond the sacraments. It is to see God present in the things around us, not just candles, water, and the bread and wine but also in the flowers and the trees and the animals.
As a sacramental people we are also people of ritual. It should be no secret to anyone that in the Catholic Church that we have a lot of rituals and devotions.
Following rituals is not something new with Jesus. The Jews had many rituals, many of which are found in the Book of the Leviticus. The presentation in the temple is one of those rituals.
Our rituals are important as moments of special connection with God. God is always present with us but our sacraments, rituals, and devotions are all meant to help us be aware of God’s presence.
Thus, these rituals are important for us. People who realize our society is in decline ask why? I think a significant part of this is that we have lost this sense of ritual. It’s as basic as our attendance at Mass. If we don’t arrange our lives to make it to Mass each week, we say the ritual isn’t so important.
This isn’t the first time the sense of ritual has declined. Our first reading today comes from the Book of the Prophet Malachi. It is the last book in the Old Testament. People, including the priests are not keeping the prescribed rituals yet they wonder why things keep getting worse.
Ritual is important. When we get busy, it’s easy to lose sign of the importance of ritual. It can become something we simply do out of obligation. We forget why we do the ritual.
Sometimes we don’t see the value of our rituals or we feel like we don’t get anything out of our ritual because we don’t understand why we are doing these things. The rituals we do are based on symbolism and tradition. If you want to understand better our postures and practices at Mass you can find out more on my website, renewaloffaith.org, or by asking questions.
When we know why we do “stuff” we can find new meaning so that the rituals we celebrate can bring us closer to God.
And is God not what we seek?