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Presentation of the Lord

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Saint of the day for february 2.

The Story of the Presentation of the Lord

At the end of the fourth century, a woman named Etheria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her journal, discovered in 1887, gives an unprecedented glimpse of liturgical life there. Among the celebrations she describes is the Epiphany, the observance of Christ’s birth, and the gala procession in honor of his Presentation in the Temple 40 days later. Under the Mosaic Law, a woman was ritually “unclean” for 40 days after childbirth, when she was to present herself to the priests and offer sacrifice—her “purification.” Contact with anyone who had brushed against mystery—birth or death—excluded a person from Jewish worship. This feast emphasizes Jesus’ first appearance in the Temple more than Mary’s purification.

The observance spread throughout the Western Church in the fifth and sixth centuries. Because the Church in the West celebrated Jesus’ birth on December 25, the Presentation was moved to February 2, 40 days after Christmas.

At the beginning of the eighth century, Pope Sergius inaugurated a candlelight procession; at the end of the same century the blessing and distribution of candles which continues to this day became part of the celebration, giving the feast its popular name: Candlemas.

In Luke’s account, Jesus was welcomed in the temple by two elderly people, Simeon and the widow Anna. They embody Israel in their patient expectation; they acknowledge the infant Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Early references to the Roman feast dub it the feast of Saint Simeon, the old man who burst into a song of joy which the Church still sings at day’s end.

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Thursday of the Lord’s Supper [Holy Thursday] (Mar 28, 2024)

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“We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.” One might think that a Eucharistic hymn might serve as an Entrance chant for Holy Thursday, but the Church chose a text that sings of the fullness of the three days of the Sacred Paschal Triduum.

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The Presentation of the Lord: A Symbol of the Messiah’s Embrace

According to the ancient custom of the people of Israel, 40 days after the birth of a firstborn child, he was to be brought to the Temple for his presentation.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in St. Peter's Basilica, Feb. 2, 2022.

Every Feb. 2, the universal Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Mary and Joseph bring the newborn Jesus to the Temple, the holy place, the house of God. The presentation of the firstborn son is equivalent to his “consecration” — it is an act of thanksgiving for the gift received from the hands of the Creator, the source of life.

In the Temple, the Holy Family — Jesus, Mary, and Joseph — meet two elderly people, faithful keepers of God’s law: Simeon and Anna. That simple event contains a profound Christian symbolism: It is the embrace of the Lord of his people, who await the Messiah. That is why the liturgy sings: “You, Lord, are the light that enlightens the nations and the glory of your people Israel” (Acclamation before the Gospel, Lk 2:32).

The Law of Moses

On this day, simultaneously, we remember the ritual purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary after she gave birth to the Savior: “When the time for Mary’s purification according to the Law of Moses had passed, she and Joseph brought the child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, according to what is written in the law, ‘Every firstborn male child shall be consecrated to the Lord,’ and also to offer, as the law says, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Lk 2:22-24).

According to the ancient custom of the people of Israel, 40 days after the birth of a firstborn child, he was to be brought to the Temple for his presentation. For this reason, the Church counts 40 days after Christmas Day (Dec. 25) to the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2.

The Prophecies of Simeon and Anna

Arriving at the Temple, the parents of Jesus with the child in their arms meet Simeon, the man whom the Holy Spirit promised would not die before seeing the Savior of the world. It was the same Spirit who put in the mouth of this prophet that this little child would be the Redeemer and Savior of mankind:

“This child is destined to bring about the fall of many in Israel, and also the rise of many others. He was sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will come to light, and a sword will pierce your own soul” (Lk 2: 34-35, from the Canticle of Simeon, Lk 2:22-40, known as “Nunc Dimittis” because of the Latin words with which it begins: “Now you leave”).

“Also that day there was in the Temple the daughter of Phanuel, of the Tribe of Asher, named Anna. She was a woman of very advanced age; she had been widowed only seven years after her marriage and remained so until she was 84 years old. Anna walked day and night in the Temple, worshipping God, offering fasting and prayers. When she saw the child, she recognized him and began to proclaim to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem that salvation had come” (Lk 2:36-38).

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Catholic Prayer: Feast of the Presentation of the Lord: Blessing of Candles and Propers of the Mass for the Feast of the Presentation, Ordinary Form

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  • Blessing of Candles and the Propers of Mass for February 2, Extraordinary Form
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This feast was originally celebrated in the Eastern Churches as "The Meeting" or "Encountering" ( Hypapante ), in the Church mankind meets the Lord. By the sixth century it began to be celebrated in the West, where the focus became the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was accompanied by solemn blessings and processions with candles; hence, it is popularly called "Candlemas." By the offerings of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph and the prophecy of St. Simeon, the life of Christ here begins to point toward his Resurrection. The following is the The blessing of candles, procession and Mass propers for Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Third Roman Missal.

Prayer after Communion By these holy gifts which we have received, O Lord, bring your grace to perfection within us, and, as you fulfilled Simeon's expectation That he would not see death until he had been privileged to welcome the Christ, so may we, going forth to meet the Lord, obtain the gift of eternal life. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.

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The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

“a light of revelation to the nations”.

Carpaccio-Presentation-au-Temple.jpg

The story behind this celebration

+ On this day, the Church celebrates the feast of light, recalling that forty days after the birth of the Lord, Mary and Joseph took the Child to the temple in Jerusalem.

+ At this time of presentation and purification, the holy man Simeon recognized the infant Messiah and, taking the Child in his arms, proclaimed him to be the “light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.”

+ The candles blessed on this day serve to remind us of Christ, the True Light, and the faith, hope, and love that illumine the Christian heart.

+ The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord was first celebrated in Jerusalem sometime before the year 400 and was first known as the “Feast of the Meeting.”

+ In 1997, Pope Saint John Paul II declared that the Feast of the Presentation would be celebrated as World Day of Consecrated Life, on which the Church prays for vocations to the religious life—including religious priests, brothers, and sisters—and celebrates the contributions of women and men religious in the life of the Church. To learn more, visit: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/consecrated-life/world-day-for-consecrated-life.cfm

For prayer and reflection

“ What do we take into our own arms? Simeon took Jesus into his arms (cf. v. 28). It is a touching scene, full of meaning and unique in the Gospels. God has placed his Son in our arms too, because embracing Jesus is the essential thing, the very heart of faith. Sometimes we risk losing our bearings, getting caught up in a thousand different things, obsessing about minor issues or plunging into new projects, yet the heart of everything is Christ, embracing him as the Lord of our lives.”— Pope Francis

Spiritual bonus

On this day we also remember Saint Catherine dei Ricci. A member of cloistered community of Dominican Tertiaries in Prato, Italy, Catherine was revered for her mystical experiences and prophetic writings. She maintained extensive correspondence with princes, bishops, and cardinals (including three future popes), as well as Saint Philip Neri. Moreover, she proved herself to be a capable administrator of her community. Saint Catherine dei Ricci died on February 2, 1590, and was canonized in 1746.

Almighty ever-living God, we humbly implore your majesty that, just as your Only Begotten Son was presented on this day in the Temple in the substance of our flesh, so, by your grace, we may be presented to you with minds made pure. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(from The Roman Missal ) Saint profiles prepared by Brother Silas Henderson, S.D.S.

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Why do Catholics celebrate the feast of the Presentation?

This feast day celebrates both the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, as well as the Purification of Mary, which was required by the Mosaic Law forty days after the birth of a child.

The Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2, also called Candlemas for the custom of using lighted candles. In the early Church it was often celebrated on February 14th, 40 days after the Epiphany, in keeping with the practice of celebrating Christmas on that date in the East. Among the Orthodox it is known as the Hypapante (“Meeting” of the Lord with Simeon).

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Through this Scriptural Rosary, we hope that you will be able to better meditate on each Hail Mary and deepen your understanding of Sacred Scripture. Use the form below to get your free copy of, The Scriptural Rosary .

usccb presentation of the lord

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 529) teaches,

The presentation of Jesus in the temple shows him to be the firstborn Son who belongs to the Lord. With Simeon and Anna, all Israel awaits its encounter with the Savior-the name given to this event in the Byzantine tradition. Jesus is recognized as the long-expected Messiah, the “light to the nations” and the “glory of Israel,” but also “a sign that is spoken against.” The sword of sorrow predicted for Mary announces Christ's perfect and unique oblation on the cross that will impart the salvation God had “prepared in the presence of all peoples.”

It is also important to note that, as a poor family, the Holy Family gave an offering of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. However, the Lamb whom they brought to the Temple was the Lamb of God.

He was presented when He was still a newborn, only 40 days old.

“In the mysterious encounter between Simeon and Mary, the Old and New Testaments are joined. Together the aging prophet and the young mother give thanks for this Light which has kept the darkness from prevailing. It is the Light which shines in the heart of human life: Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world, ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of his people Israel.’” – Pope St. John Paul II

The Gospel of Luke 2:22-40 states:

And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Regarding Simeon and Anna, Pope Benedict XVI said,

Even the priests proved incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Saviour. Alone two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, discover this great newness. Led by the Holy Spirit, in this Child they find the fulfilment of their long waiting and watchfulness. They both contemplate the light of God that comes to illuminate the world and their prophetic gaze is opened to the future in the proclamation of the Messiah: “Lumen ad revelationem gentium!” (Lk 2:32). The prophetic attitude of the two elderly people contains the entire Old Covenant which expresses the joy of the encounter with the Redeemer. Upon seeing the Child, Simeon and Anna understood that he was the Awaited One.

“… while we are still at the dawn of Jesus’ life, we are already oriented to Calvary. It is on the Cross that Jesus will be definitively confirmed as a sign of contradiction, and it is there that his Mother’s heart will be pierced by the sword of sorrow. We are told it all from the beginning, on the 40th day after Jesus’ birth, on the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, so important in the Church’s liturgy.” - Pope St. John Paul II

This is a Hebrew name that means “he has heard” or “God has heard.”

When is St. Simeon’s feast day?

The Church celebrates his feast day on the day after Candlemas, February 3.

In Hebrew navi, a prophet is one who tells, a spokesperson of God, speaking divine truth, or foretelling what will be the consequences for the future. On both counts, Simeon was a prophet, who revealed the truth about who Jesus was, as well as the implications for Israel, for Jesus Himself and for Mary.

Originally taken from the Hebrew name Hannah, it means “favor” or “grace.”

When is St. Anna’s feast day?

Anna the Prophetess shares a feast day with St. Simeon on February 3.

“In the encounter between the old man Simeon and Mary, a young mother, the Old and New Testaments come together in a wondrous way in giving thanks for the gift of the light that shone in the darkness and has prevented it from prevailing: Christ the Lord.” - Pope Benedict XVI

St. Simeon offered this prayer,

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)

Called the Nunc Dimittis, for the first words in the Latin Vulgate, it is one of the three major Canticles used in the Church’s liturgy. It is said each evening at the end of Night Prayer, the last Divine Office of the Liturgy of the Hours, or Breviary. The other Canticles are that of Zechariah, used for Lauds or Morning Prayer, and of Mary (the Magnificat), used for Vespers or Evening Prayer.

After speaking of Jesus, St. Simeon then spoke to Mary of her role of accompanying her Son in His redemptive suffering. Simeon reveals, as well, Mary’s own mission of intercession and compassion for us, her spiritual children.

Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)

“This is the meeting point of the two Testaments, Old and New. Jesus enters the ancient temple; he who is the new Temple of God: he comes to visit his people, thus bringing to fulfilment obedience to the Law and ushering in the last times of salvation.” - Pope Benedict XVI

Anna is the prophetess who saw the Holy Family at the Presentation of Jesus at the temple. The Gospel of Luke 2:36-38 tells us about Anna:

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The purification was ritual, preparatory to worship, in this case after the momentous events of childbirth and the time of rest or “laying in” afterwards. Thus, the Jewish priest purified himself by bathing before entering the holy place, and, similarly, the priest at Mass washes his hands before beginning the Eucharistic Prayer and handing the Body and Blood of Christ.

Mary, although morally pure, fulfilled her religious obligations by being purified 40 days after Jesus’ birth. Throughout her life, the Blessed Mother was always obedient to God’s Will, in this case expressed through the laws given to Israel through Moses.

“Simeon’s words seem like a second Annunciation to Mary, for they tell her of the actual historical situation in which the Son is to accomplish his mission, namely, in misunderstanding and sorrow. While this announcement on the one hand confirms her faith in the accomplishment of the divine promises of salvation, on the other hand it also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Savior, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.” — Pope St. John Paul II

This is the day when candles are blessed in the Church and traditionally have been lit in celebration of the feast.

Pope St. John Paul II said, “Christian traditions of the East and West have been interwoven, enriching the liturgy of this feast with a special procession in which the light of candles both large and small is a symbol of Christ, the true Light who came to illumine his people and all peoples.”

Candlemas is celebrated 40 days after Christmas. According to Leviticus 12, women should be purified 40 days after a son’s birth (33 days after the boy’s circumcision) and 80 days after a daughter’s birth. The purification was ritual, and preparatory to worship, in this case after the momentous events of childbirth and the time of rest or “laying in” afterwards.

In the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite, the liturgical forms and calendar as revised after the Second Vatican Council, the last day of the Christmas Season is the Baptism of Our Lord, when His hidden life ended and His public ministry began.

However, the Church maintains an Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite which utilizes the forms and calendar in use prior to the Council. In this usage, the Christmas Season continues until the Feast of the Presentation. Many Catholics, therefore, maintain their Christmas decorations through Candlemas.

Videos About Presentation of the Lord

Pope St. John Paul II said,

The prophetic words spoken by the aged Simeon shed light on the mission of the Child brought to the temple by his parents: “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against ... that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34-35). To Mary Simeon said: “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Lk 2:35). The hymns of Bethlehem have now faded and the cross of Golgotha can already be glimpsed; this happens in the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered. The event we are commemorating today is thus a bridge as it were, linking the two most important seasons of the Church's year.

Pancakes are the traditional choice on Candlemas. In Mexico, people eat tamales on this feast day, and in France, they eat crepes.

What are the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary?

The Joyful Mysteries include:

  • The Annunciation
  • The Visitation
  • The Nativity of Our Lord
  • The Presentation in the Temple
  • The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

The Presentation is celebrated in the Church as the World Day for Consecrated Life. Pope St. John Paul II instituted this annual celebration in 1997 as a day of prayer for religious men and women and other consecrated persons. This recalls the special offering which they have made to the Lord through their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. In Rome, the Holy Father celebrates a special Mass for them at St. Peter’s, which the religious living in Rome attend.

Pope Benedict XVI said,

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an eloquent image of the total gift of one’s life for all those, men and women, who are called to represent “the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, n. 1) in the Church and in the world, through the evangelical counsels. For this reason Venerable John Paul II chose today’s Feast to celebrate the Annual World Day of Consecrated Life.

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When does Christmas actually end? Here are the different views

Three Kings

By Christine Rousselle

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 2, 2024 / 09:00 am

How many days is Christmas? When should you finally take those lights off the porch or remove the tree? Read on for some of the arguments for and against commonly agreed-upon end dates for Christmas.

‘Christmas is one day’

This, of course, is the simplest answer. Christmas is typically celebrated on Dec. 25 for most of the world — or Jan. 7 for Churches using the Julian calendar (Jan. 6 for yet another, considerably smaller, part of the world.) On this day, the liturgy celebrated is the feast of the Nativity of the Lord. Priests wear white vestments on Christmas, which is different from the violet they wear during Advent. 

‘Christmas is an octave’

There’s also an argument to be made that Christmas is eight days long. The Church regards Christmas as an octave , or eight-day celebration. The octave of Christmas begins on the feast of the Nativity of the Lord and concludes on the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on Jan. 1. 

During the eight days of Christmas, clergy wear white, except during St. Stephen’s feast day and the feast of the Holy Innocents, when they wear red. 

‘Christmas is 12 days’

We’ve all heard the Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” While it’s unclear as to why anybody would give 23 separate birds or five golden rings over 12 days, there actually is a liturgical precedent for claiming that Christmas is 12 days long. 

Twelve days after Christmas is the feast of the Epiphany . This day marks when the Magi encountered Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and gave Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

In the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God. It focuses primarily on this revelation to the three Wise Men, but also on his baptism in the Jordan River and at the wedding at Cana. 

In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, Theophany — as Epiphany is known in the East  — commemorates the manifestation of Jesus’ divinity at his baptism in the River Jordan.

But here’s where it gets a little confusing: While the traditional date for the feast is Jan. 6, in the U.S. the celebration of Epiphany is moved to the second Sunday after Christmas in the Novus Ordo. In 2024, American Catholics will celebrate Epiphany on Jan. 7, and last year it fell on Jan. 8.

During the 12 days of Christmas, clergy wear white, except during St. Stephen’s feast day and the feast of the Holy Innocents, when they wear red. 

‘Christmas ends on Jan. 13’

In the “usus antiquior” of the Roman rite, per  the general rubrics of the Roman Breviary , “Christmastide” includes both “the season of Christmas” (the 12 days seen earlier) and “the season of Epiphany,” which is the eight days from the Epiphany on Jan. 6 to the commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 13. What is now called the season of Epiphany was, until 1955, observed as the Octave of the Epiphany.

‘Christmas ends on Candlemas’ 

Candlemas, or the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, is Feb. 2. On this day, many Catholics bring candles to the church to be blessed. They can then light these candles at home during prayer or difficult times as a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

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Candlemas is the last day that the Marian hymn “Alma Redemptoris Mater” is sung at the end of the night prayer of the Divine Office. The “Alma Redemptoris Mater” is used from the beginning of Advent through Feb. 2, and so Candlemas has come to be associated with the close of the Christmas season. 

Candlemas is still observed with public, Christmas-themed celebrations throughout the world, including in Peru, Puerto Rico, France, and Belgium. 

On the other hand, Septuagesima Sunday — which is not part of Christmas — has been known to fall before Feb. 2, giving the lie to the Christmas-is-until-Candlemas view. 

What do the U.S. bishops say?

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the liturgical season of Christmas ends with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. 

After the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, clergy are to wear the green vestments of Ordinary Time. The feast, which the USCCB states is the end of Christmas, is observed this liturgical year on the Monday after Epiphany, Jan. 8.

So when does Christmas end?

(Story continues below)

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So what is the exact right time to observe the end of the Christmas season? That is largely a personal call based on your own traditions, customs, practical matters, and other factors.

For safety reasons, CNA recommends that you take your tree down as soon as it starts shedding a lot of needles, but other than that, there’s an argument for leaving things up as late as Feb. 2. Of course, your neighbors may disagree. 

Merry Christmas!

This story was first written about Christmas 2021. It has since been updated.

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Christine Rousselle

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Canon 1246, §2 - Holy Days of Obligation

On December 13, 1991 the members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States of America made the following general decree concerning holy days of obligation for Latin Rite Catholics: In addition to Sunday, the days to be observed as holy days of obligation in the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States of America, in conformity with canon 1246, are as follows: January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the solemnity of the Ascension August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary November 1, the solemnity of All Saints December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated. This decree of the Conference of Bishops was approved and confirmed by the Apostolic See by a decree of the Congregation for Bishops (Prot. N. 296/84), signed by Bernardin Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation, and dated July 4, 1992. As President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, I hereby declare that the effective date of this decree for all the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States of America will be January 1, 1993, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Given at the offices of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC, November 17, 1992. Most Reverend Daniel E. Pilarczyk Archbishop of Cincinnati President, NCCB Monsignor Robert N. Lynch General Secretary

SUBSEQUENT ACTION: Canon 1246, §2

In accord with the provisions of canon 1246, §2 of the Code of Canon Law, which states: "... the conference of bishops can abolish certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday with prior approval of the Apostolic See," the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States decrees that the Ecclesiastical Provinces of the United States may transfer the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter to the Seventh Sunday of Easter according to the following procedure. The decision of each Ecclesiastical Province to transfer the Solemnity of the Ascension is to be made by the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the bishops of the respective Ecclesiastical Province. The decision of the Ecclesiastical Province should be communicated to the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and to the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. This decree was approved by His Holiness Pope John Paul II by a decree of the Congregation for Bishops signed by His Eminence Lucas Cardinal Moreira Neves, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and dated July 5, 1999. As President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, I hereby decree that the effective date of this decree for all the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States of America will be September 8, 1999, Feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary. Given at the offices of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC, August 6, 1999, Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza Bishop of Galveston-Houston President, NCCB

Reverend Monsignor Dennis M. Schnurr General Secretary

The Feast of the Presentation

The Feast of the Presentation

According to the Church’s liturgical calendar, the feast held on Feb. 2 each year is in honor of the Presentation of the Lord. Some Catholics recall this day as the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary because such was the feast day named until the 1969 changes in the Church’s calendar.

In fact, according to Luke’s Gospel, the presentation of Jesus and the purification of the Blessed Mother took place in the Temple on the same day, and both are remembered during Mass on Feb. 2. Also, in several countries, Candlemas is simultaneously celebrated on this day and involves a candlelight procession that was popularized in the Middle Ages. Until the Second Vatican Council the feasts on Feb. 2 ended the Christmas season. Today, the season ends in January on the feast of the Baptism of our Lord.

As early as the fourth century Christians commemorated the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, but, at the time, there was no feast name attached. In seventh-century Rome, the Church named the celebration the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Mother Mary, and it remained that way for nearly 1,300 years. In the reforms after Vatican II, the feast was given a stronger focus on Jesus (by stressing the Presentation of Jesus), but clearly the events of purification and presentation that took place when Jesus was 40 days old (see Lk 2:22-39) are tied together and thus commemorated together.

Purification and Presentation

Under Mosaic law found in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, a Jewish woman who gave birth to a child was considered unclean (see 12:1-8). The mother of a newborn could not routinely go out into public and had to avoid all things sacred, including the Temple. If her child was a male, this exclusion lasted for 40 days. If the child was female, the period lasted 80 days. This was a ceremonial seclusion and not the result of sin or some kind of wrongdoing on the part of the mother.

At the end of the 40 or 80 days the woman presented herself at the Temple to be purified. If the baby was her firstborn male child, the infant was brought along to the Temple to be dedicated to the Lord. The law in Exodus specifies that the first male child belongs to God (see 13:2-16). This law is a tribute to God for His sparing the firstborn Israelite males during the time of the Exodus from Egypt. The firstborn Egyptian male children, of course, were not spared.

The mother’s purification ritual obliged her to bring, or purchase at the Temple, a lamb and a turtledove as sacrificial offerings. The lamb was offered in thanksgiving to God for the successful birth of the child; the turtledove was a sin offering. Families that could not afford a lamb could bring two pigeons or two turtledoves. After these animals were sacrificed, the Temple priest prayed over the woman and she could once again resume her normal role or status.

Mary, the ever spotless Mother of God, certainly did not have to comply with this ritual, but did so to honor God and observe all the rules handed down by Moses. She was the holiest of all women, but she still submitted to the humbling requirements of the law. She remained at home for 40 days, denied herself all association with sacred things and on the day required walked the five miles from Bethlehem to the Temple in Jerusalem. Arriving at the Temple, Mary likely stood in line and waited her turn to see the priest.

Nunc Dimittis

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus, Mary and Joseph go to the Temple offering two turtledoves for Mary’s purification. Along with Mary’s willing submission, Jesus is presented into the hands of the priest and thus to God. In accordance with the Old Testament, the child was blessed and then bought or ransomed back by the family who would pay five shekels into the Temple treasury. The Savior of the world is ransomed in the manner of every other Hebrew boy. “When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord’”(Lk 2:22-24; see Nm 18:15-16).

The Gospel of Luke explains that the old prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna were at the Temple that day (see 2:22-38). They, like many others, had spent their lifetime waiting, longing for a Messiah, and the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Savior. Among all the children and mothers coming into the Temple, Simeon recognized Jesus as the Christ Child; he held Jesus and exclaimed this hymn of thanksgiving, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (2:29-32). The hymn has traditionally been termed the Nunc Dimittis , from the Latin, “ Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace .”

Like Mary, Jesus the Divine Son of God did not have to undergo these rituals, but His parents willingly complied in order to pay tribute to Jewish laws, to avoid any possible scandal and in so doing demonstrated profound humility. They acquiesced to the law like all poor Jewish families.

The Holy Family must have experienced great joy, even wonder at all that had happened to them. Consider the events of the previous weeks. First, the shepherds miraculously arrived to adore and praise Jesus on the night He was born. And now, Simeon, another stranger, singles out Jesus as the Savior, not only of Israel but of the world. Someday all the other children being presented will know Jesus as their Savior. But here in the Temple there is also pain. The old prophet, moved by the Holy Spirit, tells Mary that she will experience unspeakable grief because of the outrageous way the world would judge and treat her Son. But Mary remained always committed to God’s will and to her Son.

Feb. 2 is on the liturgical calendar as the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, but in addition to the presentation, the Mass recalls Mary’s humble submission to the purification ritual.

D.D. Emmons writes from O’Fallon, Ill.  

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The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

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Known originally as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a relatively ancient celebration. The Church at Jerusalem observed the feast as early as the first half of the fourth century, and likely earlier. The feast celebrates the presentation of Christ in the temple at Jerusalem on the 40th day after His birth.

Quick Facts

  • Date:  February 2
  • Type of Feast:  Feast
  • Readings:  Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7, 8, 9, 10; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40 ( full text here )
  • Prayers:   Nunc  Dimities , the Canticle of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32); see below
  • Other Names for the Feast:  Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, the Meeting of the Lord, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

History of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

According to Jewish law, the firstborn male child belonged to God, and the parents had to "buy him back" on the 40th day after his birth, by offering a sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons" ( Luke 2:24 ) in the temple (thus the "presentation" of the child). On that same day, the mother would be ritually purified (thus the "purification").

Saint Mary and Saint Joseph kept this law, even though, since Saint Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Christ, she would not have had to go through ritual purification. In his gospel, Luke recounts the story ( Luke 2:22-39 ).

When Christ was presented in the temple, "there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel" ( Luke 2:25 ) When Saint Mary and Saint Joseph brought Christ to the temple, Simeon embraced the Child and prayed the Canticle of Simeon:

Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel ( Luke 2:29-32 ).

The Original Date of the Presentation

Originally, the feast was celebrated on February 14, the 40th day after Epiphany (January 6), because Christmas wasn't yet celebrated as its own feast, and so the Nativity, Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord (Theophany), and the feast celebrating Christ's first miracle at the wedding in Cana were all celebrated on the same day. By the last quarter of the fourth century, however, the Church at Rome had begun to celebrate the Nativity on December 25, so the Feast of the Presentation was moved to February 2, 40 days later.

Why Candlemas?

Inspired by the words of the Canticle of Simeon ("a light to the revelation of the Gentiles"), by the 11th century, the custom had developed in the West of blessing candles on the Feast of the Presentation. The candles were then lit, and a procession took place through the darkened church while the Canticle of Simeon was sung. Because of this, the feast also became known as Candlemas. While the procession and blessing of the candles is not often performed in the United States today, Candlemas is still an important feast in many European countries.

Candlemas and Groundhog Day

This emphasis on light, as well as the timing of the feast, falling as it does in the last weeks of winter, led to another, secular holiday celebrated in the United States on the same date: Groundhog Day. You can learn more about the connection between the religious holiday and the secular one in Why Did the Groundhog See His Shadow?

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