The Presentation of Christ in the Temple
On February 2nd or the nearest Sunday we celebrate the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, a Feast which is also known as Candlemas and, in the Book of Common Prayer, as The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin. The liturgical colour is white.
In St Luke’s Gospel we read about the early ceremonies that occurred in the life of Jesus. First was his naming and circumcision which took place eight days after his birth and which we celebrate on January 1st each year. Next came a two-fold rite – the purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. This required a journey to Jerusalem for the Holy Family`(1).
According to Jewish Law, every mother was regarded as legally unclean for 40 days following the birth of a boy, and 80 days following the birth of a girl. During these “days of her purification” the mother was subject to various restrictions; for example, she could not participate in public worship. When the days of purification were completed, the mother came to the Temple where she offered appropriate sacrifices and was then legally clean. A lamb was the normal burnt-offering and a pigeon or turtle dove was the sin-offering. However, if the mother could not afford a lamb, she was allowed to offer a turtle dove or pigeon instead. So Mary’s offerings of two turtle doves or two pigeons were the offerings of a poor mother.
Jewish Law also required that every first born son be presented or consecrated to God. You can read the whole account of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus in Luke 2:22-40. Simeon’s canticle in verses 29-32 which begins, “Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” is the familiar Nunc Dimittis which we sing or say at Evensong and Compline. This is a song of joy for all, for it tells us that Jesus came to save everyone – all peoples and all races. And the candles we burn in church remind us that Jesus is indeed a Light to lighten the whole world.
But Simeon also mentions the sword that will pierce Mary’s soul and so, at a time when we end our celebration of Christmas, we are pointed forward to Good Friday and beyond that to Easter. There’s a lovely Candlemas hymn in Common Praise (number 80, tucked away in the Christingle section!) which sums all this up in the last two lines. You can also access the hymn here. Common Worship Eucharistic resources for Candlemas are available here on page 194.