|The Jewish temple transformed into a Christian church|
by the presentation of Jesus in it.
The Forty Days of Mary’s Purification are now completed, and she must go up to the Temple, there to offer to God her Child Jesus. Before following the Son and His Mother in this Their mysterious journey, let us spend our last few moments at Bethlehem, in lovingly pondering over the mysteries at which we are going to assist.
The Law commanded that a woman who had given birth to a son should not approach the Tabernacle for the term of forty days; after which time she was to offer a sacrifice for her purification. She was to offer up a lamb as a holocaust, and a turtle or dove as a sin-offering. But if she was poor, and could not provide a lamb, she was to offer in its stead a second turtle or dove.
By another ordinance, every first-born son was to be considered as belonging to God, and was to be redeemed by five sicles, each sicle weighing, according to the standard of the Temple, twenty obols (Lev. xiii; Num. iii: 47 - The Obol was about three halfpence of English money).
Mary was a Daughter of Israel - she had given birth to Jesus - He was her First-born Son. Could such a Mother and such a Son be included in the laws we have just quoted? Was it becoming that Mary should observe them?
If she considered the spirit of these legal enactments, and why God required the ceremony of Purification, it was evident that she was not bound to them. She was the chaste Spouse of the Holy Ghost, a Virgin in conceiving and a Virgin in giving birth to her Son; her purity had ever been spotless as that of the Angels; but it received an incalculable increase by her carrying the God of all sanctity in her womb, and bringing Him into this world. Moreover, when she reflected upon her Child being the Creator and Sovereign Lord of all things—how could she suppose that He was to be submitted to the humiliation of being ransomed as a slave, whose life and person are not his own?
And yet the Holy Ghost revealed to Mary that she must comply with both these laws. She, the holy Mother of God, must go to the Temple like other Hebrew mothers, as though she had lost something which needed restoring by a legal sacrifice. He that is the Son of God and Son of Man must be treated in all things as though He were a servant, and be ransomed in common with the poorest Jewish boy. Mary adores the will of God, and embraces it with her whole heart.
The Son of God was only to be made known to the world by gradual revelations. For 30 years He led a hidden life in the insignificant village of Nazareth; and during all that time men took Him to be the Son of Joseph (St. Luke iii: 23). The earth possessed its God and its Savior, and men, with a few exceptions, knew it not. The Shepherds of Bethlehem knew it; but they were not told, as were afterwards the Fishermen of Genesareth, to go and preach the Word to the furthermost parts of the world. The Magi, too, knew it; they came to Jerusalem and spoke of it, and the City was in a commotion; but all was soon forgotten, and the Three Kings went back quietly to the East. These two events, which would, at a future day, be celebrated by the Church as events of most important interest to mankind, were lost upon the world, and the only ones that appreciated them were a few true Israelites, who had been living in expectation of a Messias Who was to be poor and humble, and was to save the world.
The same Divine plan which had required that Mary should be espoused to St. Joseph, in order that Her fruitful Virginity might not seem strange in the eyes of the people, now obliged her to come, like other Israelite mothers, to offer the sacrifice of Purification for the birth of the Son, Whom she had conceived by the operation of the Holy Ghost, but Who was to be presented in the Temple as the Son of Mary, the Spouse of Joseph. Thus it is that Infinite Wisdom delights in showing that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and in disconcerting our notions; He claims the submissiveness of our confidence, until the time that He has fixed for withdrawing the veil, and showing Himself to our astonished view.
The Divine Will was dear to Mary in this as in every circumstance of her life. The Holy Virgin knew that by seeking this external rite of Purification, she was in no wise risking the honor of her Child, or failing in the respect due to her own Virginity. She was in the Temple of Jerusalem what she was in the house of Nazareth, when she received the Archangel's visit; she was the Handmaid of the Lord. She obeyed the Law because she seemed to come under the Law. Her God and her Son submimtted to the ransom as humbly as the poorest Hebrew would have to do; He had already obeyed the edict of the emperor Augustus in the general census; He was to be obedient even unto death, even to the death of the Cross. The Mother and the Child both humbled Themselves in the Purification, and man’s pride received, on that day, one of the greatest lessons ever given it.
What a journey was this of Mary and Joseph, from Bethlehem to Jerusalem! The Divine Babe is in His Mother’s arms; she had Him on her heart the whole way. Heaven and earth are and all nature are sanctified by the gracious presence of their merciful Creator. Men look at this Mother as she passes along the road with her sweet Jesus; some are struck with her appearance, others pass her by as not worth a look; but of the whole crowd, there was not one that knew he had been so close to the God Who had come to save him.
St. Joseph is carrying the humble offering, which the Mother is to give to the Priest. They are too poor to buy a lamb; besides, their Jesus is the Lamb of God, Who taketh away the sins of the world...
At length the Holy Family enters Jerusalem. The name of this holy City signifies Vision of Peace; and Jesus comes to bring her Peace. Let us consider the names of the three places in which our Redeemer began, continued and ended His life on earth. He is conceived in Nazareth, which signifies a Flower; and Jesus is as He tells us in Canticle ii: 1, the Flower of the field and the Lily of the valley, by Whose fragrance we are refreshed. He is born at Bethlehem, the House of Bread; for He is the nourishment of souls. He dies on the Cross in Jerusalem, and, by His Blood, He restores peace between Heaven and earth, peace between men, peace within our own souls; and, on this day of His Mother's Purification, we shall find Him giving us the pledge of this peace.
Whilst Mary, the Living Ark of the Covenant, is ascending the steps which lead up to the Temple, carrying Jesus in Her arms, let us be attentive to the mystery; one of the most celebrated of the prophecies is about to be accomplished in this Infant. We have already seen the other predictions fulfilled: of His being conceived of a Virgin, and born in Bethlehem; today He shows us a further title to our adoration — He enters the Temple.
This edifice is not the magnificent Temple of Solomon, which was destroyed by fire during the Jewish captivity. It is the second Temple, which was built after the return from Babylon, and is not comparable to the first in beauty. Before the century is out, it also is to be destroyed; and Our Savior will soon tell the Jews that not a stone shall remain upon a stone that shall not be thrown down (Luke 21: 6). Now the Prophet Aggeus, in order to console the Jews, who had returned from exile and were grieving that they were unable to raise a House to the Lord equal to that built by Solomon, addressed these words to them, which mark the time of the coming of the Messias: Take courage… for thus saith the Lord of Hosts: Yet one little while, and I will move the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land. And I will move all nations; and the Desired of all nations shall come; and I will fill this House with glory. Great shall be the glory of this House, more than the first; and in this place I will give Peace, saith the Lord of Hosts (Agg. ii: 4, 7, 8, 10).
The hour is come for the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Emmanuel has left Bethlehem; He has come among the people; He is about to take possession of His Temple, and the mere fact of His entering it will at once give it a glory, which is far above that of its predecessor. He will often visit it during His mortal life; but His coming to it today, carried as He is in Mary's arms, is enough for the accomplishment of the promise, and all the shadows and figures of this Temple at once pale before the rays of the Sun of Truth and Justice. The blood of oxen and goats will, for a few years more, flow on its altar; but the Infant, Who holds in His veins the Blood that is to redeem the world, is at this moment standing near that very altar. Amidst the Priests who are there, and amidst the crowd of Israelites, who are moving to and fro in the sacred building, there are a few faithful ones, who are in expectation of the Deliverer, and they know that the time of His manifestation is at hand; but there is not one among them who knows that at this very moment the Messias has entered the House of God.
But this great event could not be accomplished without a prodigy being wrought by the Eternal God as a welcome to His Son. The Shepherds had been summoned by the Angel, and the Magi had been called by the Star, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem; this time it is the Holy Ghost Himself Who sends a witness to the Infant, now in the great Temple.
There was then living in Jerusalem an old man whose life was well-nigh spent. He was a man of desires (Dan. x: 11), and his name was Simeon; his heart had longed unceasingly for the Messias, and at last his hope was recompensed. The Holy Ghost revealed to him that he should not see death without first seeing the rising of the Divine Light. As Mary and Joseph were ascending the steps of the Temple, Simeon felt within himself the strong impulse of the Spirit of God: he leaves his house and walks towards the Temple; the ardor of his desire makes him forget the feebleness of his age. He reaches the porch, and there, amidst the many mothers who had come to present their children, his inspired gaze recognizes the Virgin of whom he had so often read in Isaias, and he presses through the crowd to the Child She is holding in Her arms.
Mary, guided by the same Divine Spirit, welcomes the saintly old man, and puts into his trembling arms the dear object of Her love, the Salvation of the world. Happy Simeon! figure of the ancient world, grown old in its expectation, and near its end. No sooner has he received the sweet Fruit of Life, than his youth is renewed as that of the eagle, and in his person is wrought the transformation which was to be granted to the whole human race. He cannot keep silence; he must sing a Canticle; he must do as the Shepherds and the Magi had done, he must give testimony: Now, O Lord, Thou dost dismiss Thy servant in Peace, because my eyes have seen Thy Salvation, which Thou hast prepared—a Light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel (St. Luke ii: 29 and following verses)
Immediately there comes, attracted to the spot by the same Holy Ghost, the holy Anna, Phanuel’s daughter, noted for her piety and venerated by the people. Simeon and Anna, the representatives of the Old Testament, unite their voices, and celebrate the happy coming of the Child Who is to renew the face of the earth; they give praise to the mercy of God, Who in this place, in this second Temple, gives Peace to the world, as the Prophet Aggeus had foretold...
...Simeon gives back to Mary the Child she is going to offer to the Lord. The two doves are presented to the Priest, who sacrifices them on the Altar; the price for the ransom is paid; the whole law is satisfied; and after having paid homage to Her Creator in this sacred place, where She spent Her early years, Mary, with Jesus pressed to Her bosom, and Her faithful Joseph by Her side, leaves the Temple. Such is the mystery of this fortieth day, which closes, by this admirable Feast of the Purification, the holy Season of Christmas. Several learned writers...are of the opinion that this Solemnity was instituted by the Apostles themselves. This much is certain, that it was a long-established Feast even in the 5th century.
(taken from pages 462-69, The Liturgical Year, Book III)
Presentation of Our Lord 2017
Solemn Profession of Dom Dunstan Nelson
Forty days after his birth at Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph came to the Temple in Jerusalem to be purified and to present the child Jesus, their first-born, for God’s service. This traditional Jewish rite also involved the offering of a small sacrifice, “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons,” Essentially, they were giving thanks to God for the birth and good health of their son and the survival of his mother. Even today, childbirth is the most danger thing a woman has to go through in life. This rite of purification and presentation was always a joyful occasion, a day of hope and thanksgiving. Yet, as we heard in the Gospel, after the blessing came a warning for Mary, when Simeon said to her, “This child is destined to be a sign that is rejected, and a sword will pierce your own heart too.” There would be many sacrifices ahead, culminating with the sacrifice of Calvary, when Jesus would offer his own life and shed his blood for the redemption of sinners.
Today is the last of the Christmas feasts, each one of them a theophany, an encounter with the living God in the person of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, Emmanuel, God who is with us. At his Nativity, the angels in heaven and the shepherds on earth rejoice at the birth of the Saviour, the child in the manger. At his Epiphany, the gentiles, represented by the wise men, follow a star and kneel to worship the infant King, whom they recognise to be both God and Redeemer. At his Baptism, John the Baptist sees and hears the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as Jesus emerges from the waters. At the Wedding Feast of Cana, at his Mother’s behest, Jesus transforms water into wine, as at the Last Supper bread and wine will become his Body and Blood and on the Cross blood and water will flow from his side as the Church, his mystical Body, comes into being through the Sacraments. Today, on this loveliest of feasts, Simeon and Anna, inspired by the Holy Spirit, see in the child presented in the Temple “the Christ of the Lord.” This is the final theophany of the Christmas story, when two prophetic figures, a man and a woman, bless God and say, “My eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.”
Dear Br Dunstan, this is where you come into the story, for the Gospel is not a history book that recounts past events, but the living word of God which is being written today in the lives of Christians, who live through faith in Jesus Christ. What happened on that day in the Temple at Jerusalem is taking place before our very eyes today. You have been called by God to present yourself to him in this temple and dedicate your entire life to him, searching for him in prayer and living according to his commandments in the monastic life as a living sacrifice of praise. As Simeon took Jesus in his arms and thanked God for fulfilling his promise of salvation, so the Belmont Community takes you in its arms through a covenant of love and promises to accompany you in your lifelong journey of faith as our brother and friend. You will take the same vows as we have taken and you will join the ranks of your brethren as a monk of Belmont. No doubt your parents, who in a mysterious way known only to God bear some responsibility for your vocation, are feeling like Mary and Joseph, joyful yet bewildered. They will know what Simeon means when he says, “a sword will pierce your own heart.” Let me assure them that they are not loosing a son but gaining a community and they will enjoy the fruits of your vocation as, each day, you pray for them and the rest of your family.
The vows speak for themselves, as does the Rite of Solemn Profession. You enter into the tomb with Christ, so as to rise with him to new life. By the vow of Conversatio Morum, you will promise to die each day to sin and self and to live out in your own flesh the sacrifice of the Cross, for your own salvation and for the salvation of the world. By Obedience, you promise to do God’s will in all things, realising that his will is revealed in the voice of the abbot and community, in the Magisterium of the Church and in your own conscience. By Stability, you promise to remain rooted in the heart of God through fidelity to this particular monastic family, the Rule of St Benedict and a life of contemplative prayer
Dear Br Dunstan, may you be blessed today as you as you proclaim your vows before the altar of God. Through the intercession of Our Lady and St Dunstan, may God our Father take you to himself and unite you to his Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.