by Donal Anthony Foley –
The Feast of the Presentation commemorates the visit of the Holy Family to the Temple in Jerusalem, which took place 40 days after the birth of the Christ Child. Traditionally, this period of 40 days marked the season of Christmastide, which ended with the feast day.
The presentation of the first-born was required in Jewish Law to commemorate the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. On the other hand, the Egyptians, for their ill treatment of the Jewish people, were punished through the death of their first-born. (Ex 12: 29-30)
Previously, this feast was known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, given that it was also a requirement of Jewish Law that a woman be purified after giving birth. As part of the ceremony, the parents had to make a sacrificial offering, which in the case of a poor couple like Joseph and Mary, was either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. (Lk 2: 22-24) Five shekels of silver were also required as the redemption price for the first-born child. (Nm 18:15-16)
Our Lady and the Child Jesus did not need to undergo these ceremonies, since they were both sinless and holy. They did so out of humility, however, and to keep the circumstances of Jesus’s conception and birth a secret. This ceremony, then, was really an offering of the Christ Child to God in the Temple. Instead of describing the ceremony that took place, St. Luke examines the meeting of the Holy Family with the elderly Simeon, a righteous, devout and spirit-filled man, who was “looking for the consolation of Israel.” Through a special revelation of the Holy Spirit, he knew that before he died, he would see the Messiah. (Lk 2: 25-26)
Simeon spoke prophetic and foreboding words to Our Lady, telling her that the Child would be a sign that would be spoken against and that a sword would pierce her soul, so that “thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” (Lk 2: 27-35) Simeon foresaw that Our Lady would endure much suffering and sorrow during her life, which was, of course, particularly the case at the time of the Crucifixion.
Nineteen centuries later in May 1917, we find the same Virgin Mary, now assumed into heaven, appearing to the children at Fatima. Sister Lucia tells us in her memoirs that during the first apparition, after having promised to take the three seers to heaven, Our Lady said, “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God to bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?”
In response, Lucia, on behalf of all three said, “Yes, we are willing,” to which the Blessed Virgin replied, “Then, you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.”
Just as Simeon told Mary that she would have to suffer as Jesus was being offered in the Temple, Mary in turn told the Fatima children that would have much to suffer as they were offering themselves to God in the Cova da Iria.
To be light in the darkness
Another name for the feast of the Presentation is Candlemas. During the Mass on this feast day, candles are blessed and distributed and there is a procession. This likely arose as a Christian ceremony to replace an ancient Roman pagan festival, which involved lighted torches being carried through the city.
The theme of “light” is also found in the words of Simeon to Mary and Joseph. He told them that the Child Jesus would be a “light for revelation to the Gentiles” and for the glory of Israel. (Lk 2: 28-32) This took place particularly when Christianity spread to the Gentile nations, but was also true during the lifetime of Jesus, who publicly proclaimed that he was the “Light of the world.” (Jn 8:12) Later, when Jesus was “transfigured” on the mountain before Peter, James and John, He appeared in a glorious light and His face “shone like the sun.” This was a revelation of His true heavenly state to the three disciples, in order to show them His intrinsic glory and to strengthen them in the faith, especially for later in the face of the sufferings He would undergo. (Mt 17: 1-8)
The theme of light is prominent at Fatima as well. When Our Lady appeared for the first time, Lucia described her as being “more brilliant than the sun,” and said that she “radiated a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, when the rays of the burning sun shine through it.” The same was true of the Angel of Portugal when he appeared to the children the previous year bathed in light. In several apparitions of Our Lady, light would stream from her hands and penetrate their hearts and the innermost depths of their souls, making them see themselves in God. And of course, the miracle of sun on October 13 was a stupendous “miracle of light.”
When Pope St. John Paul II beatified Jacinta and Francisco in May 2000, during his homily he said that through this rite, “the Church wishes to put on the candelabrum these two candles which God lit to illumine humanity in its dark and anxious hours.” He thus described Jacinta and Francisco as shining lights for our times, echoing what Jesus said to His followers when He called them “the light of the world,” and like a lampstand, their “light must shine before others,” through good works that glorify the Father in heaven. (Mt 5: 14-16)
We can follow the footsteps of Sts. Jacinta and Francisco, safe in the knowledge that they were indeed shining lights for us. We should not be content, though, just to admire the illumination they gave through their beautiful self-sacrificing lives, but also seek to emulate them in our own lesser way, and thus become ourselves little lights in an increasingly dark world.
Donal Anthony Foley is a regular contributor to Soul Magazine and the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions (www.theotokos.org.uk). He has also written two time-travel/adventure books for young people, and the third in the series is due to be published later this year – details at http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk