February 1, 2016
Evensong of Candlemas
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Church of Our Lady of Walsingham | Houston, Texas | 1 February 2016
By Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P
Samuel 1:20-28a / Romans 8:14-21
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Today, at the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple at Jerusalem, we hear Simeon exclaim: “Master, you are now dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; / for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, / a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Spoken just forty days after the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem, these are words that could have been uttered after his crucifixion and death just as well as after his birth. For they are words that encompass the whole work of salvation—even if, when Simeon utters them, its completion still lies in the future. “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel,” Simeon tells Mary his Mother, “and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Lk 2:30-33).
The ancient feast of the Presentation of the Lord links Christmas and Easter. At Christmas we celebrate the coming in the flesh of the only begotten Son of God whose sacrifice for our sake we will celebrate at Easter. Just as Samuel was consecrated to the Lord—“to remain in his house forever”—by his mother Hannah (Sam 1: 22, 28), so Christ who is born of the flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary is presented by her and by blessed Joseph her spouse to be eternally dedicated to God, “the first to open the womb” who gives his life to save those otherwise doomed to die (cf. Ex 13:1). Taking on our nature and condition in all things but sin, the sinless High Priest will offer the perfect sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world (cf. Heb 2:14-18). Today Simeon hails as the Savior of the world the one who, entering for the first time into the place of sacrifice, will offer his own sacrifice on the Cross.
Simeon’s words—joining the mystery of the Incarnation to the mystery of the Pasch—are uttered in the Temple, where, twelve years on, Jesus is to be found once again. He has traveled to Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph for the feast of Passover—a momentous pilgrimage for someone on the threshold of adolescence. When for the first time we hear him speak, we are struck by what he has to say: Christ’s first words recorded in the Gospel at once express his divine sonship and his dedication to his Father’s will. Of Mary and Joseph, he asks: “Why were you looking for me?”—and then, echoing the words of Hannah, he reminds them of the deep meaning of his Presentation in the Temple twelve years before—“Did you know not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” The dramatic circumstances of his parents’ anguished search for him serve to accentuate the determination—dare we not say the love?—with which the twelve-year old Jesus embraces the divine plan for our salvation.
Thus are the words of Simeon’s prophecy in effect confirmed by Our Lord’s own words. Consecrated to his Father’s service at the Presentation in the Temple, Jesus embraces the work of our salvation that will take him from the wood of the manger to the wood of the Cross—from Bethlehem to Golgotha, and beyond, to the right hand of the Father in glory.
My brothers and sisters, the salvation Christ won for us follows the same arc. Consecrated to the Father in Baptism, we are daily being transformed by sacramental grace and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to become more and more like Christ whom the Father loves and in whom we are in turn loved by the Father. We “who have received a spirit of adoption” are “children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rm 8:15-17). The salvation won for us by the passion, death and resurrection of Christ consists precisely in the transformation—the configuration to Christ—that we shall undergo in order for our adoption and our participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity to be fully realized.
Today we sing of the salvation which Simeon foresees and acclaims: “Jesus, by thy presentation, / Thou, who didst for us endure, / Make us see our great salvation, / Seal us with thy promise sure. / And present us in thy glory / To thy Father, cleansed and pure” (
In His Temple Now Behold Him, Henry Pye & William Cooke).
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The Feast of the Presentation is a particularly auspicious day for an episcopal ordination—the moment when a worthy priest is presented to God to be consecrated perpetually to apostolic service in His holy Church. More intensely configured to Christ by episcopal ordination, the new bishop follows him along the path from Bethelehem to Golgotha, becoming ever more closely united with him in the ministry of pastoral charity for the people of God. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in the apostolic exhortation Pastores Gregis, “Each Bishop is configured to Christ in order to love the Church with the love of Christ the Bridegroom, and in order to be in the Church a minister of her unity”(§13). Because in this precious moment the bishop becomes nothing less than the instrument of Christ’s saving work in the world, each one of us who participate in the episcopal ordination tomorrow evening can declare, with Simeon, “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, / a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Amen.