Here’s good news to those who have not yet removed their Christmas decors: today’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is the actual end of Christmas Season when the Child Jesus was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after Epiphany. According to this tradition, it is also on this day when the Vatican removes its giant Christmas tree at the St. Peter’s Square. And so, after this day and you still have your Christmas tree and other decors hanging, then you must be a certified slob or simply one who refuses to move on to meet Jesus Christ.
Today’s feast has many names because it has many facets. This was first celebrated in Jerusalem in the early year 300 as “the Feast of Presentation at the Temple” based on the Gospel account of St. Luke we have heard earlier. The Syrians adopted the feast 300 years later, reaching the seat of the Eastern Church in Constantinople where it came to be known as “the Encounter” or Ypapante in Greek, emphasizing the “meeting” of the Savior and the two elderly people, Simeon and Ana. At about that same time in Rome, Pope Sergius I adapted the same feast from Jerusalem with a procession of lighted candles to show Jesus as the “light for revelation” to Simeon and everyone. When it reached France in the year 800, the French adapted it further with a new designation as “Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary” or“Chandeleur” which came to be known as “Candlemass” in English-speaking countries and “Candelaria” in Spain and her colonies like the Philippines. Over a thousand years later in 1969 during the Vatican II reform of the liturgy, the Church decreed it to be known in its original name, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
That’s the beauty of our Catholic faith when certain feasts evolved depending on the various emphases of the many periods in history yet remaining true to its very essence who is Jesus Christ our Savior and Son of God. Anyone who truly meets or encounters Jesus is always enlightened by Him to meet Him among other peoples. Recall how we started the celebration with the paschal candle also at the entry to our church. It is the same paschal candle we have lighted and blessed during the Easter Vigil last year to symbolize the risen Christ lighting our path of salvation. Today in our procession, the light of Candlemass announces that paschal candle: inasmuch as we celebrate today the presentation of Jesus at the Temple by His parents, 33 years later or a little more than two months from now, Jesus would be back in Jerusalem to offer – or present – Himself to the Father in fulfilling His pasch or Passion, Death, and Resurrection. This is the meaning of Simeon’s beautiful canticle we all sing at bedtime: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in sight of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Lk. 2:29-32).
Jesus is the light of the nations – lumen gentium – or light of men or peoples because He enables us to see the face of every human being as a brother and a sister in Him. How sad that this human face has so often been disfigured, trying to hide or even remove the face of Christ in whose image we have all been created. Imagine how Simeon and Anna were able to recognize Christ among the many infants being offered that day at the Temple in Jerusalem because both have always been opened with God. We can never meet God unless we also meet others as brothers and sisters. Remember during our Simbang Gabi how we reflected about true holiness through St. Joseph who always found God in everything so that upon learning Mary’s pregnancy, he decided to divorce her silently so as not to put her into shame. But upon learning from an angel in a dream the circumstances about her pregnancy, St. Joseph took her as wife and Christmas happened with him standing as the Lord’s legal father. When Joseph saw God in Mary, Jesus came; when he saw Jesus coming, Joseph accepted Mary. That is the light of Candlemass when we are able to see God in each one’s face – most especially among our senior citizens.
In a society where old age is seen like a disease with ads telling everyone to “arrest ageing”, giving so much premium on being young and looking young so glorified in media, we all fail to see the significance of this stage in life. Worst, we abhor it, refusing to talk about it as if it is a curse. Wrong! Actually, most of the people God called for His mission in the Old Testament were mostly old people starting with Noah and Abraham as well as Moses who all performed great wonders for Him in their advanced ages! Today’s gospel is no exception as it invites us to see Christ among our elderly brethren in the church and community, especially in the family whom we often take for granted. See how St. Joseph and Mary shared Jesus with Simeon and Anna. In 1999, St. John Paul wrote a letter to his fellow elders, saying that “The line separating life and death runs through our communities and moves inexorably nearer to each of us. If life is a pilgrimage to towards our heavenly home, then old age is the most natural time to look towards the threshold of eternity (14).”
Today’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple reveals to us the mystery of every encounter with God is often preceded with an encounter with another person, even strangers. Every encounter with God is often verified by our encounter with others because through them, we experience that “invisible line” that seems to bind all of us as one big family. And this is most true when we encounter the elderly people, especially those who have “aged gracefully” who often confirm with us the presence of God in our lives which they have already started to experience. Every encounter with an elderly is an encounter with Jesus Christ because it is a prelude to our final encounter with Him in eternity. And all these encounters are made possible by the grace and light only of Jesus Christ. Remember: the moment we are able to recognize the face of the person next to us as the face of a brother and sister in Jesus Christ, then we are sure that darkness has ended and day has begun. Amen. Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
Photos from Google.