The Presentation Explained
On February 2nd, we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple. We also call this day The Meeting of our Lord with Simeon and Anna. Other names for this feast include: Presentation of the Lord, Encounter of Our Lord, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Candlemas. It is the final of the Feasts of Light, because it is the last time that we commemorate an occasion of welcoming Jesus into the world this liturgical year. (But I don’t recommend telling your children it’s time to start waiting for Christmas again)!
This feast occurs 40 Days after the birth of Jesus. The proceedings take place as is the Jewish custom since the time of Moses. There were two main purposes for the visit to the temple. One was to fulfil the rituals surrounding the firstborn son. In Jewish society the firstborn son belonged especially to God. This is why Mary and Joseph offered turtle doves and young pigeons as a sacrifice for Jesus. The second reason was that women were considered ritually impure after childbearing, and after 40 days they were to return to the temple to be cleansed. A sacrifice would also have been offered on Mary’s account. Since Mary didn’t really need to be purified, we see her time at the temple as an act of obedience to God. This mirrors Jesus’s obedience during his baptism in the Jordan, which we celebrated on Theophany.
Some Byzantine churches have a Churching for women after delivery. This includes a blessing for the mom, and in thanksgiving to God. When this is done, it also represents obedience to God, following Mary’s example of motherhood and following the Jewish customs.
Simeon and Anna
Luke’s gospel account of the presentation includes Simeon and Anna. Both of them proclaim that the salvation of Israel has arrived, and praise God for this day.
Tradition is that the Righteous Simeon was one of the scholars who translated the scriptures into Greek in Alexandria. When he came across Isaiah 7:14, (Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel) he thought that the word virgin was a mistake. Instead, he was about to write woman, when an angel appeared. The angel told him that he would see these words fulfilled. So Simeon kept the translation as virgin, and begun awaiting the day he would behold the Christ child, born of a virgin. Then, when the Holy Family came to Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit led Simeon to the temple to witness the reception of Christ that day.
We know the Righteous Simeon for his prayer:
Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, a Light to lighten the Gentiles, the Glory of Your people Israel.
Anna, who we call Anna the Prophetess, was a widow in the temple. She constantly fasted and praised God in the temple. When she witnessed the presentation of Jesus in the temple, she also rejoiced and proclaimed the divinity of Christ to those who would listen to her. Luke records that she became a widow in her youth, and spent the eighty-some years after the death of her husband in the temple. The sight of Jesus must have been such a blessing to a woman who had endured such sorrow in her life.
Simeon and Anna show the fulfillment of the hope of the Old Testament. They have lived through the sorrows of Israel. Then, near the end of their years, they witness the arrival of the hope of Israel: their salvation, Jesus Christ. These figures remind us of the great joy we should have as Christians. God’s word has been fulfilled, and we are able to witness Christ in our lives, and behold him in the Eucharist.
There is written evidence of candle processions occurring on this feast from the fifth century. Today we often have candles blessed on this Feast. We keep blessed candles in our icon corner. Some families reserve these specially blessed candles for times when someone is ill or suffering.
So bring some candles with you to church this Feast day! If the priest does not bless candles during the regular liturgy, you can pull him aside after to bless the candles. (Or, before, if he has another liturgy to get to after)!
If you have any special family traditions for this Feast, let me know in the comments!
And, if you enjoyed this article, you may also like to read about Theophany, or Christmas Eve. Or, if you’re looking to get your life in order, check out our recent article: Crash Course in Home Organization!