The Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord which occurs forty days after the birth of Jesus and is also known as Candlemas day since the blessing and procession of candles is included in today's liturgy Presentation of the Lord.
The feast was first observed in the Eastern Church as "The Encounter." In the sixth century, it began to be observed in the West: in Rome with a more penitential character and in Gaul (France) with solemn blessings and processions of candles, popularly known as "Candlemas." The Presentation of the Lord concludes the celebration of the Nativity and with the offerings of the Virgin Mother and the prophecy of Simeon, the events now point toward Easter.
"In obedience to the Old Law, the Lord Jesus, the first-born, was presented in the Temple by his Blessed Mother and his foster father. This is another 'epiphany' celebration insofar as the Christ Child is revealed as the Messiah through the canticle and words of Simeon and the testimony of Anna the prophetess. Christ is the light of the nations, hence the blessing and procession of candles on this day. In the Middle Ages this feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or 'Candlemas,' was of great importance.
"The specific liturgy of this Candlemas feast, the blessing of candles, is not as widely celebrated as it should be, except of course whenever February 2 falls on a Sunday and thus takes precedence. There are two ways of celebrating the ceremony, either the Procession, which begins at a 'gathering place' outside the Church or the Solemn Entrance, celebrated within the Church."
The feast of 2 February: still retains a popular character. It is necessary, however, that such should reflect the true Christian significance of the feast. It would not be proper for popular piety in its celebration of this feast to overlook its Christological significance and concentrate exclusively on its Marian aspects. The fact that this feast should be 'considered [...] a joint memorial of Son and Mother' would not support such an inversion. The candles kept by the faithful in their homes should be seen as a sign of Christ 'the light of the world' and an expression of faith.
First Reading from Malachi, we hear that the Lord God is sending a messenger to announce that God is coming to the temple. The messenger is to announce a cleansing and purifying of the people of God and the temple. This reading has been taken to refer in a minor way to John the Baptist and in a major way to Jesus. Both came to proclaim the Good News. Both called for metanoia – change of heart, purifying of lifestyles. Jesus is seen in the temple many times throughout the Gospels. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is brought to the temple to be presented to God according to the Jewish Law. In another passage in Luke’s Gospel, we hear that in His youth, Jesus remains in the temple listening and teaching while His mother and Joseph search for Him for three days. Jesus comes into the temple throughout His public ministry, one time turning over the tables of those who are making God’s house a den of thieves – thus cleansing and purifying the temple for the holy service of God.
Responsorial Psalm is also appropriate for this feast when we celebrate Jesus being brought into the temple for the presentation on this day, the fortieth day after His birth.
The second reading emphasizes Jesus’ role as the new high priest who is both human and divine. He can fully identify with us because of His human nature, yet He is the ultimate high priest because He is God who offers the perfect sacrifice, through His suffering and death.
The Gospel gives us the account of Jesus being brought to the temple at the time of the presentation. First, we hear that Mary and Joseph follow the traditional custom of bringing the forty-day old Infant to the temple. They show that even though they are entrusted with the Author of life and the Savior of the world, they are not above the law. Their sacrifice of two birds shows that they were not of the wealthy class who would offer a lamb for a sacrifice.
Infant Who is being presented: Simeon, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not experience death until he had seen the Anointed of the Lord, praises God and says he is now ready for death since he has seen “a revealing light for the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people, Israel.” Simeon goes on to say to Mary that the baby she holds in her hands will be the downfall and rise of many in Israel and that Mary’s own life will experience hardships because of the Infant. The second holy person to encounter the Infant and to speak about Him is the prophetess Anna. She also gives thanks to God as she recognizes that the Baby will be the source of deliverance for God’s holy people. These two individuals had seen thousands upon thousands of couples and their infants being brought to the temple over the years. Yet, they were able to see the specialness of this Infant and His parents. Both Simeon and Anna were attuned to God’s presence in what some would call ordinary happenings in a way that others did not even have a clue. Based upon Simeon’s proclamation that Jesus is the revealing light to the Gentiles, since the eighth century the church has blessed candles used in sacred worship on this day. That is why this feast is also called “Candlemas.”
God’s Light is still shining in and through people for the sake of others. We should be open to the Light of God shining out of people where God is present. Let God’s Light shine through us all.