Feast of the Presentation of the LordFeb 2nd, 2013 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Blog Posts
Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, when Mary and Joseph, forty days after the birth of Jesus, brought Him from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to present Him to God in the Temple in fulfillment of the law of Moses. On this day, Mary handed the Infinite One (Infinity itself) to an old man named Simeon, who held the Creator and Sustainer of all things in his arms.
Simeon had been waiting for the Messiah, assured by God that he would not see death before seeing the Lord’s Anointed One. On this day, while holding the Anointed One in his arms, he prayed, giving thanks to God who, in the presence of all peoples had over many centuries through the calling of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and through Moses and Joshua and David and Solomon, and the prophets, prepared a particular people to be those through whom in This Child salvation would come to the whole world, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (St. Luke 2:32) Then he blessed Mary and Joseph, and speaking to Mary, he prophesied concerning this Anointed One, that He would bring salvation through suffering, that Mary too would suffer in soul, and that by encountering Him the hearts of men would be revealed, so as ultimately to be placed either on His right, or on His left (Heb. 4:12; Mt. 25:33; 27:38, Acts 10:42; 17:31, Rom. 2:16).
In the West this feast has also been called the “Purification,” because the law of Moses that Mary and Joseph obeyed that day was the law of purification for women who had given birth. (cf. Lev. 12:1-8) This does not mean that Mary was sinful, for the same reason that Jesus’s baptism does not mean that He was sinful.1 This feast has also been called Candlemas, because of the tradition in which the Church blesses and distributes candles to the faithful, who carry the lit candles in procession and thereby mark the entrance of Christ the Light into the world, according to the word of St. Simeon, faithfully reported by the Blessed Mother to St. Luke. In the East this feast is called Hypapante, which means “Meeting” because when Christ is presented to God in the Temple, there is a meeting of God and man, of Christ and His people Israel, represented in Sts. Simeon and Anna.
There is evidence that this feast was already being observed in Jerusalem in the early fourth century. The Office of Readings for today contains a homily from St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (died ca. 638) in which the tradition of processing with candles is evident:
In honor of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light. Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ. The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.
The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.
The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal. Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor. Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness. By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honor.
In early Church history, one of the most beautiful sermons from this feast is titled “Oration on Simeon and Anna: On the Day that They Met in the Temple,” traditionally attributed to St. Methodius of Olympus, who was martyred in AD 311. Some scholars have argued that this was not written by St. Methodius, but is a later work. That may in fact be the case. Nevertheless it seems that the earliest manuscripts of this work preserved to this day in Moscow and in St. Catherine Monastery on Mt. Sinai, date back to the eighth and ninth centuries. So the sermon was likely composed some time between the late third century and the eighth century. In it we see Simeon representing Israel, and Anna representing the Church. We also see development of the Marian implications inherent in the Presentation narrative, such as Mary’s role as the ark of the New Covenant, the Second Eve, and intercessor for the Church. I have included below the whole sermon, which is worth meditating on carefully and prayerfully every year on this feast.
Composer Frank La Rocca, who is himself a Catholic revert, and occasionally comments here at CTC, composed the following piece, titled “Diffusa Est Gratia,” for this feast:
Oration on Simeon and Anna: On the Day that They Met in the Temple
I. Although I have before, as briefly as possible, in my dialogue on chastity, sufficiently laid the foundations, as it were, for a discourse on virginity, yet today the season has brought forward the entire subject of the glory of virginity, and its incorruptible crown, for the delightful consideration of the Church’s foster-children. For today the council chamber of the divine oracles is opened wide, and the signs prefiguring this glorious day, with its effects and issues, are by the sacred preachers read over to the assembled Church. Today the accomplishment of that ancient and true counsel is, in fact and deed, gloriously manifested to the world. Today, without any covering, 2 Corinthians 3:18 and with unveiled face, we see, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, and the majesty of the divine ark itself. Today, the most holy assembly, bearing upon its shoulders the heavenly joy that was for generations expected, imparts it to the race of man. “Old things are passed away” 2 Corinthians 5:17 — -things new burst forth into flowers, and such as fade not away. No longer does the stern decree of the law bear sway, but the grace of the Lord reigns, drawing all men to itself by saving long-suffering. No second time is an Uzziah 2 Samuel 6:7 invisibly punished, for daring to touch what may not be touched; for God Himself invites, and who will stand hesitating with fear? He says: “Come unto Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden.” Matthew 11:28 Who, then, will not run to Him? Let no Jew contradict the truth, looking at the type which went before the house of Obededom. 2 Samuel 6:10 The Lord has ” manifestly come to His own.” And sitting on a living and not inanimate ark, as upon the mercy-seat, He comes forth in solemn procession upon the earth. The publican, when he touches this ark, comes away just; the harlot, when she approaches this, is remoulded, as it were, and becomes chaste; the leper, when he touches this, is restored whole without pain. It repulses none; it shrinks from none; it imparts the gifts of healing, without itself contracting any disease; for the Lord, who loves and cares for man, in it makes His resting-place. These are the gifts of this new grace. This is that new and strange thing that has happened under the sun Sirach 1:10 — a thing that never had place before, nor will have place again. That which God of His compassion toward us foreordained has come to pass, He has given it fulfilment because of that love for man which is so becoming to Him. With good right, therefore, has the sacred trumpet sounded, “Old things are passed away, behold all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 And what shall I conceive, what shall I speak worthy of this day? I am struggling to reach the inaccessible, for the remembrance of this holy virgin far transcends all words of mine. Wherefore, since the greatness of the panegyric required completely puts to shame our limited powers, let us betake ourselves to that hymn which is not beyond our faculties, and boasting in our own unalterable defeat, let us join the rejoicing chorus of Christ’s flock, who are keeping holyday. And do you, my divine and saintly auditors, keep strict silence, in order that through the narrow channel of ears, as into the harbour of the understanding, the vessel freighted with truth may peacefully sail. We keep festival, not according to the vain customs of the Greek mythology; we keep a feast which brings with it no ridiculous or frenzied banqueting of the gods, but which teaches us the wondrous condescension to us men of the awful glory of Him who is God over all.Romans 9:5
II. Come, therefore, Isaiah, most solemn of preachers and greatest of prophets, wisely unfold to the Church the mysteries of the congregation in glory, and incite our excellent guests abundantly, to satiate themselves with enduring dainties, in order that, placing the reality which we possess over against that mirror of yours, truthful prophet as you are, you may joyfully clap your hands at the issue of your predictions. It came to pass, he says, “in the year in which king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the house was full of His glory. And the seraphim stood round about him: each one had six wings. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory. And the posts of the door were moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said, Woe is me! I am pricked to the heart, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. And one of the seraphim was sent unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said, Lo, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I strict, and who will go unto this people? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And He said, Go, and tell this people, You hear indeed, but understand not; and you see indeed, but perceive not.” These are the proclamations made beforehand by the prophet through the Spirit. Dearly beloved, consider the force of these words. So shall you understand the issue of these sacramental symbols, and know both what and how great this assembling together of ourselves is. And since the prophet has before spoken of this miracle, come, and with the greatest ardour and exultation, and alacrity of heart, together with the keenest sagacity of your intelligence, and therewith approach Bethlehem the renowned, and place before your mind an image clear and distinct, comparing the prophecy with the actual issue of events. You will not stand in need of many words to come to a knowledge of the matter; only fix your eyes on the things which are taking place there. “All things truly are plain to them that understand, and right to them that find knowledge.” Proverbs 8:9 For, behold, as a throne high and lifted up by the glory of Him that fashioned it, the virgin-mother is there made ready, and that most evidently for the King, the Lord of hosts. Upon this, consider the Lord now coming unto you in sinful flesh. Upon this virginal throne, I say, worship Him who now comes to you by this new and ever-adorable way. Look around you with the eye of faith, and you will find around Him, as by the ordinance of their courses, the royal and priestly company of the seraphim. These, as His bodyguard, are ever wont to attend the presence of their king. Whence also in this place they are not only said to hymn with their praises the divine substance of the divine unity, but also the glory to be adored by all of that one of the sacred Trinity, which now, by the appearance of God in the flesh, has even lighted upon earth. They say: “The whole earth is full of His glory.” For we believe that, together with the Son, who was made man for our sakes, according to the good pleasure of His will, was also present the Father, who is inseparable from Him as to His divine nature, anal also the Spirit, who is of one and the same essence with Him. For, as says Paul, the interpreter of the divine oracle, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” 2 Corinthians 5:19 He thus shows that the Father was in the Son, because that one and the same will worked in them.
III. Therefore, O lover of this festival, when you have considered well the glorious mysteries of Bethlehem — which were brought to pass for your sake — gladly join yourself to the heavenly host, which is celebrating magnificently your salvation.2 Samuel 6:14 As once David did before the ark, so do you, before this virginal throne, joyfully lead the dance. Hymn with gladsome song the Lord, who is always and everywhere present, and Him who from Teman, Habakkuk 3:3 as says the prophet, has thought fit to appear, and that in the flesh, to the race of men. Say, with Moses, “He is my God, and I will glorify Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” Exodus 15:2 Then, after your hymn of thanksgiving, we shall usefully inquire what cause aroused the King of Glory to appear in Bethlehem. His compassion for us compelled Him, who cannot be compelled, to be born in a human body at Bethlehem. But what necessity was there that He, when a suckling infant, that He who, though both in time, was not limited by time, that He, who though wrapped in swaddling clothes, was not by them held fast, what necessity was there that He should be an exile and a stranger from His country? Should you, forsooth, wish to know this, you congregation most holy, and upon whom the Spirit of God has breathed, listen to Moses proclaiming plainly to the people, stimulating them, as it were, to the knowledge of this extraordinary nativity, and saying, “Every male that opens the womb, shall be called holy to the Lord.” Exodus 31:19 O wondrous circumstance! “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” Romans 11:33 It became indeed the Lord of the law and the prophets to do all things in accordance with His own law, and not to make void the law, but to fulfil it, and rather to connect with the fulfilment of the law the beginning of His grace. Therefore it is that the mother, who was superior to the law, submits to the law. And she, the holy and undefiled one, observes that time of forty days that was appointed for the unclean. And He who makes us free from the law, became subject to the law; and there is offered for Him, who has sanctified us, a pair of clean birds,Luke 11:24 in testimony of those who approach clean and blameless. Now that that parturition was polluted, and stood not in need of expiatory victims, Isaiah is our witness, who proclaims distinctly to the whole earth under the sun: “Before she travailed,” he says, “she brought forth before her pains came, she escaped, and brought forth a man-child.” Isaiah 66:7 Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? The must holy virgin mother, therefore, escaped entirely the manner of women even before she brought forth: doubtless, in order that the Holy Spirit, betrothing her unto Himself, and sanctifying her, she might conceive without intercourse with man. She has brought forth her first-born Son, even the only-begotten Son of God, Him, I say, who in the heavens above shone forth as the only-begotten, without mother, from out His Father’s substance, and preserved the virginity of His natural unity undivided and inseparable; and who on earth, in the virgin’s nuptial chamber, joined to Himself the nature of Adam, like a bridegroom, by an inalienable union, and preserved His mother’s purity uncorrupt and un injured— Him, in short, who in heaven was begotten without corruption, and on earth brought forth in a manner quite unspeakable. But to return to our subject.
IV. Therefore the prophet brought the virgin from Nazareth, in order that she might give birth at Bethlehem to her salvation-bestowing child, and brought her back again to Nazareth, in order to make manifest to the world the hope of life. Hence it was that the ark of God removed from the inn at Bethlehem, for there He paid to the law that debt of the forty days, due not to justice but to grace, and rested upon the mountains of Sion, and receiving into His pure bosom as upon a lofty throne, and one transcending the nature of man, the Monarch of all, she presented Him there to God the Father, as the joint-partner of His throne and inseparable from His nature, together with that pure and undefiled flesh which he had of her substance assumed. The holy mother goes up to the temple to exhibit to the law a new and strange wonder, even that child long expected, who opened the virgin’s womb, and yet did not burst the barriers of virginity; that child, superior to the law, who yet fulfilled the law; that child that was at once before the law, and yet after it; that child, in short, who was of her incarnate beyond the law of nature. For in other cases every womb being first opened by connection with a man, and, being impregnated by his seed, receives the beginning of conception, and by the pangs which make perfect parturition, does at length bring forth to light its offspring endowed with reason, and with its nature consistent, in accordance with the wise provision of God its Creator. For God said, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” But the womb of this virgin, without being opened before, or being impregnated with seed, gave birth to an offspring that transcended nature, while at the same time it was cognate to it, and that without detriment to the indivisible unity, so that the miracle was the more stupendous, the prerogative of virginity likewise remaining intact. She goes up, therefore to the temple, she who was more exalted than the temple, clothed with a double glory— the glory, I say, of undefiled virginity, and that of ineffable fecundity, the benediction of the law, and the sanctification of grace. Wherefore he says who saw it: “And the whole house was full of His glory, and the seraphim stood round about him; and one cried unto another, and said. Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah 6:3 As also the blessed prophet Habakkuk has charmingly sung, saying, “In the midst of two living creatures you shall be known: as the years draw near you shall be recognised— when the time has come you shall be shown forth.” See, I pray you, the exceeding accuracy of the Spirit. He speaks of knowledge, recognition, showing forth. As to the first of these: “In the midst of two living creatures you shall be known,” Habakkuk 3:2 he refers to that overshadowing of the divine glory which, in the time of the law, rested in the Holy of holies upon the covering of the ark, between the typical cherubim, as He says to Moses, “There will I be known to you.” Exodus 25:22 But He refers likewise to that concourse of angels, which has now come to meet us, by the divine and ever adorable manifestation of the Saviour Himself in the flesh, although He in His very nature cannot be beheld by us, as Isaiah has even before declared. But when He says, “As the years draw near, you shall be recognised,” He means, as has been said before, that glorious recognition of our Saviour, God in the flesh, who is otherwise invisible to mortal eye; as somewhere Paul, that great interpreter of sacred mysteries, says: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” Galatians 4:4-5 And then, as to that which is subjoined, “When the time has come, You shall be shown forth,” what exposition does this require, if a man diligently direct the eye of his mind to the festival which we are now celebrating? “For then shall You be shown forth,” He says, “as upon a kingly charger, by Your pure and chaste mother, in the temple, and that in the grace and beauty of the flesh assumed by You.” All these things the prophet, summing up for the sake of greater clearness, exclaims in brief: “The Lord is in His holy temple; ” Habakkuk 2:20 “Fear before Him all the earth.”
V. Tremendous, verily, is the mystery connected with you, O virgin mother, you spiritual throne, glorified and made worthy of God. You have brought forth, before the eyes of those in heaven and earth, a pre-eminent wonder. And it is a proof of this, and an irrefragable argument, that at the novelty of your supernatural child-bearing, the angels sang on earth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men,” Luke 2:14 by their threefold song bringing in a threefold holiness. Blessed are you among the generations of women, O you of God most blessed, for by you the earth has been filled with that divine glory of God; as in the Psalms it is sung: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, and the whole earth shall be filled with His glory. Amen. Amen.” And the posts of the door, says the prophet, moved at the voice of him that cried, by which is signified the veil of the temple drawn before the ark of the covenant, which typified you, that the truth might be laid open to me, and also that I might be taught, by the types and figures which went before, to approach with reverence and trembling to do honour to the sacred mystery which is connected with you; and that by means of this prior shadow-painting of the law I might be restrained from boldly and irreverently contemplating with fixed gaze Him who, in His incomprehensibility, is seated far above all. For if to the ark, which was the image and type of your sanctity, such honour was paid of God that to no one but to the priestly order only was the access to it open, or ingress allowed to behold it, the veil separating it off, and keeping the vestibule as that of a queen, what, and what sort of veneration is due to you from us who are of creation the least, to you who art indeed a queen; to you, the living ark of God, the Lawgiver; to you, the heaven that contains Him who can be contained of none? For since you, O holy virgin, hast dawned as a bright day upon the world and hast brought forth the Sun of Righteousness, that hateful horror of darkness has been chased away; the power of the tyrant has been broken, death has been destroyed, hell swallowed up, and all enmity dissolved before the face of peace; noxious diseases depart now that salvation looks forth; and the whole universe has been filled with the pure and clear light of truth. To which things Solomon alludes in the Book of Canticles, and begins thus: “My beloved is mine, and I am his; he feeds among the lilies until the day break, and the shadows flee away.” Song of Songs 2:16-17 Since then, the God of gods has appeared in Sion, and the splendour of His beauty has appeared in Jerusalem; and “a light has sprung up for the righteous, and joy for those who are true of heart.” According to the blessed David, the Perfecter and Lord of the perfected has, by the Holy Spirit, called the teacher and minister of the law to minister and testify of those things which were done.
VI. Hence the aged Simeon, putting off the weakness of the flesh, and putting on the strength of hope, in the face of the law hastened to receive the Minister of the law, the Teacher with authority, the God of Abraham, the Protector of Isaac, the Holy One of Israel, the Instructor of Moses; Him, I say, who promised to show him His divine incarnation, as it were His hinder parts;Exodus 3:23 Him who, in the midst of poverty, was rich; Him who in infancy was before the ages; Him who, though seen, was invisible; Him who in comprehension was incomprehensible; Him who, though in littleness, yet surpassed all magnitude— at one and the same time in the temple and in the highest heavens— on a royal throne, and on the chariot of the cherubim Him who is both above and below continuously Him who is in the form of a servant, and in the form of God the Father; a subject, and yet King of all. He was entirely given up to desire, to hope, to joy; he was no longer his own, but His who had been looked for. The Holy Spirit had announced to him the joyful tidings, and before he reached the temple, carried aloft by the eyes of his understanding, as if even now he possessed what he had longed for, he exulted with joy. Being thus led on, and in his haste treading the air with his steps, he reaches the shrine hitherto held sacred; but, not heeding the temple, he stretches out his holy arms to the Ruler of the temple, chanting forth in song such strains as become the joyous occasion: I long for You, O Lord God of my fathers, and Lord of mercy, who hast deigned, of Your own glory and goodness, which provides for all, of Your gracious condescension, with which You incline towards us, as a Mediator bringing peace, to establish harmony between earth and heaven. I seek You, the Great Author of all. With longing I expect You who, with Your word, embracest all things. I wait for You, the Lord of life and death. For You I look, the Giver of the law, and the Successor of the law. I hunger for You, who quickenest the dead; I thirst for You, who refreshest the weary; I desire You, the Creator and Redeemer of the world.Isaiah 43:10 You are our God, and You we adore; You are our holy Temple, and in You we pray; You are our Lawgiver, and You we obey; You are God of all things the First. Before You was no other god begotten of God the Father; neither after You shall there be any other son consubstantial and of one glory with the Father. And to know You is perfect righteousness, and to know Your power is the root of immortality.Wisdom 15:3 You are He who, for our salvation, was made the head stone of the corner, precious and honourable, declared before to Sion. For all things are placed under You as their Cause and Author, as He who brought all things into being out of nothing, and gave to what was unstable a firm coherence; as the connecting Band and Preserver of that which has been brought into being; as the Framer of things by nature different; as He who, with wise and steady hand, holds the helm of the universe; as the very Principle of all good order; as the irrefragable Bond of concord and peace. For in You we live, and move, and have our being.Acts 18:28 Wherefore, O Lord my God, I will glorify You, I will praise Your name; for You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth; You are clothed with majesty and honour. For what is more splendid for a king than a purple robe embroidered around with flowers, and a shining diadem? Or what for God, who delights in man, is more magnificent than this merciful assumption of the manhood, illuminating with its resplendent rays those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death?Isaiah 42:7; Luke 1:79 Fitly did that temporal king and Your servant once sing of You as the King Eternal, saying, You are fairer than the children of men, who among men art very God and man. For You have girt, by Your incarnation, Your loins with righteousness, and anointed Your veins with faithfulness, who Yourself art very righteousness and truth, the joy and exultation of all.Isaiah 11:5 Therefore rejoice with me this day, you heavens, for the Lord has showed mercy to His people. Yea, let the clouds drop the dew of righteousness upon the world; let the foundations of the earth sound a trumpet-blast to those in Hades, for the resurrection of them that sleep has come.Isaiah 45:8 Let the earth also cause compassion to spring up to its inhabitants; for I am filled with comfort; I am exceeding joyful since I have seen You, the Saviour of men. 2 Corinthians 7:4
VII. While the old man was thus exultant, and rejoicing with exceeding great and holy joy, that which had before been spoken of in a figure by the prophet Isaiah, the holy mother of God now manifestly fulfilled. For taking, as from a pure and undefiled altar, that coal living and ineffable, with man’s flesh invested, in the embrace of her sacred hands, as it were with the tongs, she held Him out to that just one, addressing and exhorting him, as it seems to me, in words to this effect: Receive, O reverend senior, you of priests the most excellent, receive the Lord, and reap the full fruition of that hope of yours which is not left widowed and desolate. Receive, you of men the most illustrious, the unfailing treasure, and those riches which can never be taken away. Take to your embrace, O you of men most wise, that unspeakable might, that unsearchable power, which can alone support you. Embrace, you minister of the temple, the Greatness infinite, and the Strength incomparable. Fold yourself around Him who is the very life itself, and live, O you of men most venerable, Cling closely to incorruption and be renewed, O you of men most righteous. Not too bold is the attempt; shrink not from it then, O you of men most holy. Satiate yourself with Him you have longed for, and take your delight in Him who has been given, or rather who gives Himself to you, O you of men most divine. Joyfully draw your light, O you of men most pious, from the Sun of Righteousness, that gleams around you through the unsullied mirror of the flesh. Fear not His gentleness, nor let His clemency terrify you, O you of men most blessed. Be not afraid of His lenity, nor shrink from His kindness, O you of men most modest. Join yourself to Him with alacrity, and delay not to obey Him. That which is spoken to you, and held out to you, savours not of over-boldness. Be not then reluctant, O you of men the most decorous. The flame of the grace of my Lord does not consume, but illuminates you, O you of men most just. Exodus 3:2 Let the bush which set forth me in type, with respect to the verity of that fire which yet had no subsistence, teach you this, O you who art in the law the best instructed.Daniel 3:21 Let that furnace which was as it were a breeze distilling dew persuade you, O master, of the dispensation of this mystery. Then, beside all this, let my womb be a proof to you, in which He was contained, who in nought else was ever contained, of the substance of which the incarnate Word yet deigned to become incarnate. The blast Exodus 19:16 of the trumpet does not now terrify those who approach, nor a second time does the mountain all on smoke cause terror to those who draw near, nor indeed does the law punish relentlessly those who would boldly touch. What is here present speaks of love to man; what is here apparent, of the Divine condescension. Thankfully, then, receive the God who comes to you, for He shall take away your iniquities, and thoroughly purge your sins. In you, let the cleansing of the world first, as in type, have place. In you, and by you, let that justification which is of grace become known beforehand to the Gentiles. You are worthy of the quickening first-fruits. You have made good use of the law. Use grace henceforth. With the letter you have grown weary; in the spirit be renewed. Put off that which his old, and clothe yourself with that which is new. For of these matters I think not that you are ignorant.
VIII. Upon all this that righteous man, waxing bold and yielding to the exhortation of the mother of God, who is the handmaid of God in regard to the things which pertain to men, received into his aged arms Him who in infancy was yet the Ancient of days, and blessed God, and said, “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word: for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32 I have received from You a joy unmixed with pain. Receive me rejoicing, O Lord, and singing of Your mercy and compassion. You have given unto me this joy of heart. I render unto You with gladness my tribute of thanksgiving. I have known the power of the love of God. Since, for my sake, God of You begotten, in a manner ineffable, and without corruption, has become man. I have known the inexplicable greatness of Your love and care for us, for You have sent forth Your own bowels to come to our deliverance. Now, at length, I understand what I had from Solomon learned: “Strong as death is love: for by it shall the sting of death be done away, by it shall the dead see life, by it shall even death learn what death is, being made to cease from that dominion which over us he exercised. By it, also, shall the serpent, the author of our evils, he taken captive and overwhelmed.” Song of Songs 8:6 You have made known to us, O Lord, Your salvation, causing to spring up for us the plant of peace, and we shall no longer wander in error. You have made known to us, O Lord, that You have not unto the end overlooked Your servants; neither have You, O beneficent One, forgotten entirely the works of Your hands. For out of Your compassion for our low estate You have shed forth upon us abundantly that goodness of Yours which is inexhaustible, and with Your very nature cognate, having redeemed us by Your only begotten Son, who is unchangeably like to You, and of one substance with You; judging it unworthy of Your majesty and goodness to entrust to a servant the work of saving and benefiting Your servants, or to cause that those who had offended should be reconciled by a minister. But by means of that light, which is of one substance with You, You have given light to those that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, in order that in Your light they might see the light of knowledge; and it has seemed good to You, by means of our Lord and Creator, to fashion us again unto immortality; and You have graciously given unto us a return to Paradise by means of Him who separated us from the joys of Paradise; and by means of Him who has power to forgive sins You haveMark 2:10 blotted out the handwriting which was against us.Colossians 2:4 Lastly, by means of Him who is a partaker of Your throne and who cannot be separated from Your divine nature, You have given unto us the gift of reconciliation and access unto You with confidence in order that, by the Lord who recognises the sovereign authority of none, by the true and omnipotent God, the subscribed sanction, as it were, of so many and such great blessings might constitute the justifying gifts of grace to be certain and indubitable rights to those who have obtained mercy. And this very thing the prophet before had announced in the words: No ambassador, nor angel, but the Lord Himself saved them; because He loved them, and spared them, and He took them up, and exalted them. And all this was, not of works of righteousness Titus 3:5 which we have done, nor because we loved You—for our first earthly forefather, who was honourably entertained, in the delightful abode of Paradise, despised Your divine and saving commandment, and was judged unworthy of that life-giving place, and mingling his seed with the bastard off-shoots of sin, he rendered it very weak—but You, O Lord, of Your own self, and of Your ineffable love toward the creature of Your hands, hast confirmed Your mercy toward us, and, pitying our estrangement from You, hast moved Yourself at the sight of our degradation John 4:9 to take us into compassion. Hence, for the future, a joyous festival is established for us of the race of Adam, because the first Creator of Adam of His own free-will has become the Second Adam. And the brightness of the Lord our God has come down to sojourn with us, so that we see God face to face, and are saved Therefore, O Lord, I seek of You to be allowed to depart. I have seen Your salvation; let me be delivered from the bent yoke of the letter. I have seen the King Eternal, to whom no other succeeds; let me be set free from this servile and burdensome chain. I have seen Him who is by nature my Lord and Deliverer; may I obtain, then, His decree for my deliverance. Set me free from the yoke of condemnation, and place me under the yoke of justification. Deliver me from the yoke of the curse, and of the letter that kills; 2 Corinthians 3:6 and enrol me in the blessed company of those who, by the grace of this Your true Son, who is of equal glory and power with You, have been received into the adoption of sons.
IX. Let then, says he, what I have thus far said in brief, suffice for the present as my offering of thanks to God. But what shall I say to you, O mother-virgin and virgin-mother? For the praise even of her who is not man’s work exceeds the power of man. Wherefore the dimness of my poverty I will make bright with the splendour of the gifts of the spirits that around you shine, and offering to you of your own, from the immortal meadows I will pluck a garland for your sacred and divinely crowned head. With your ancestral hymns will I greet you, O daughter of David, and mother of the Lord and God of David. For it were both base and inauspicious to adorn you, who in your own glory excellest with that which belongs unto another. Receive, therefore, O lady most benignant, gifts precious, and such as are fitted to you alone, O you who art exalted above all generations, and who, among all created things, both visible and invisible, shinest forth as the most honourable. Blessed is the root of Jesse, and thrice blessed is the house of David, in which you have sprung up. God is in the midst of you, and you shall not be moved, for the Most High has made holy the place of His tabernacle. For in you the covenants and oaths made of God unto the fathers have received a most glorious fulfilment, since by you the Lord has appeared, the God of hosts with us. That bush which could not be touched,Exodus 3:2 which beforehand shadowed forth your figure endowed with divine majesty, bare God without being consumed, who manifested Himself to the prophet just so far as He willed to be seen. Then, again, that hard and rugged rock,Exodus 17:6 which imaged forth the grace and refreshment which has sprung out from you for all the world, brought forth abundantly in the desert out of its thirsty sides a healing draught for the fainting people. Yea, moreover, the rod of the priest which, without culture, blossomed forth in fruit,Numbers 17:8 the pledge and earnest of a perpetual priesthood, furnished no contemptible symbol of your supernatural child-bearing. Hebrews 9:4 What, moreover? Hath not the mighty Moses expressly declared, that on account of these types of you, hard to be understood,Exodus 25:8 he delayed longer on the mountain, in order that he might learn, O holy one, the mysteries that with you are connected? For being commanded to build the ark as a sign and similitude of this thing, he was not negligent in obeying the command, although a tragic occurrence happened on his descent from the mount; but having made it in size five cubits and a half, he appointed it to be the receptacle of the law, and covered it with the wings of the cherubim, most evidently pre-signifying you, the mother of God, who hast conceived Him without corruption, and in an ineffable manner brought forth Him who is Himself, as it were, the very consistence of incorruption, and that within the limits of the five and a half circles of the world. On your account, and the undefiled Incarnation of God, the Word, which by you had place for the sake of that flesh which immutably and indivisibly remains with Him for ever.Hebrews 9:4 The golden pot also, as a most certain type, preserved the manna contained in it, which in other cases was changed day by day, unchanged, and keeping fresh for ages. The prophet Elijah 2 Kings 2:11 likewise, as prescient of your chastity, and being emulous of it through the Spirit, bound around him the crown of that fiery life, being by the divine decree adjudged superior to death. You also, prefiguring his successor Elisha, Sirach 48:1 having been instructed by a wise master, and anticipating your presence who wast not yet born, by certain sure indications of the things that would have place hereafter, ministered help and healing to those who were in need of it, which was of a virtue beyond nature; now with a new cruse, which contained healing salt, curing the deadly waters, to show that the world was to be recreated by the mystery manifested in you; now with unleavened meal, in type responding to your child-bearing, without being defiled by the seed of man, banishing from the food the bitterness of death; and then again, by efforts which transcended nature, rising superior to the natural elements in the Jordan, and thus exhibiting, in signs beforehand, the descent of our Lord into Hades, and His wonderful deliverance of those who were held fast in corruption. For all things yielded and succumbed to that divine image which prefigured you.
X. But why do I digress, and lengthen out my discourse, giving it the rein with these varied illustrations, and that when the truth of your matter stands like a column before the eye, in which it were better and more profitable to luxuriate and delight in? Wherefore, bidding adieu to the spiritual narrations and wondrous deeds of the saints throughout all ages, I pass on to you who art always to be had in remembrance, and who boldest the helm, as it were, of this festival.
Blessed are you, all-blessed, and to be desired of all. Blessed of the Lord is your name, full of divine grace, and grateful exceedingly to God, mother of God, you that givest light to the faithful. You are the circumscription, so to speak, of Him who cannot be circumscribed; the root Isaiah 40:1 of the most beautiful flower; the mother of the Creator; the nurse of the Nourisher; the circumference of Him who embraces all things; the upholder of HimHebrews 1:3 who upholds all things by His word; the gate through which God appears in the flesh;Ezekiel 44:2 the tongs of that cleansing coal;Isaiah 6:6 the bosom in small of that bosom which is all-containing; the fleece of wool,Judges 6:37 the mystery of which cannot be solved; the well of Bethlehem,2 Samuel 23:17 that reservoir of life which David longed for, out of which the draught of immortality gushed forth; the mercy-seat Exodus 35:17 from which God in human form was made known unto men; the spotless robe of Him who clothes Himself with light as with a garment. You have lent to God, who stands in need of nothing, that flesh which He had not, in order that the Omnipotent might become that which it was his good pleasure to be. What is more splendid than this? What than this is more sublime? He who fills earth and heaven, Jeremiah 23:24 whose are all things, has become in need of you, for you have lent to God that flesh which He had not. You have clad the Mighty One with that beauteous panoply of the body by which it has become possible for Him to be seen by my eyes. And I, in order that I might freely approach to behold Him, have received that by which all the fiery darts of the wicked shall be quenched.Ephesians 6:16 Hail! Hail! Mother and handmaid of God. Hail! Hail! You to whom the great Creditor of all is a debtor. We are all debtors to God, but to you He is Himself indebted.
For He who said, “Honour your father and your mother,” Exodus 20:12 will have most assuredly, as Himself willing to be proved by such proofs, kept inviolate that grace, and His own decree towards her who ministered to Him that nativity to which He voluntarily stooped, and will have glorified with a divine honour her whom He, as being without a father, even as she was without a husband, Himself has written down as mother. Even so must these things be. For the hymns which we offer to you, O you most holy and admirable habitation of God, are no merely useless and ornamental words. Nor, again, is your spiritual laudation mere secular trifling, or the shoutings of a false flattery, O you who of God art praised; you who to God gavest suck; who by nativity givest unto mortals their beginning of being, but they are of clear and evident truth. But the time would fail us, ages and succeeding generations too, to render unto you your fitting salutation as the mother of the King Eternal, 1 Timothy 1:17 even as somewhere the illustrious prophet says, teaching us how incomprehensible you are. How great is the house of God, and how large is the place of His possession! Great, and has none end, high and unmeasurable. For verily, verily, this prophetic oracle, and most true saying, is concerning your majesty; for you alone hast been thought worthy to share with God the things of God; who hast alone borne in the flesh Him, who of God the Father was the Eternally and Only-Begotten. So do they truly believe who hold fast to the pure faith.
XI. But for the time that remains, my most attentive hearers, let us take up the old man, the receiver of God, and our pious teacher, who has put in here, as it were, in safety from that virginal sea, and let us refresh him, both satisfied as to his divine longing, and conveying to us this most blessed theology; and let us ourselves follow out the rest of our discourse, directing our course unerringly with reference to our prescribed end, and that under the guidance of God the Almighty, so shall we not be found altogether unfruitful and unprofitable as to what is required of us. When, then, to these sacred rites, prophecy and the priesthood had been jointly called, and that pair of just ones elected of God— Simeon, I mean, and Anna, bearing in themselves most evidently the images of both peoples— had taken their station by the side of that glorious and virginal throne—for by the old man was represented the people of Israel, and the law now waxing old; while the widow represents the Church of the Gentiles, which had been up to this point a widow—the old man, indeed, as personating the law, seeks dismissal; but the widow, as personating the Church, brought her joyous confession of faith and spoke of Him to all that looked for redemption in Jerusalem, even as the things that were spoken of both have been appositely and excellently recorded, and quite in harmony with the sacred festival. For it was fitting and necessary that the old man who knew so accurately that decree of the law, in which it is said: Hear Him, and every soul that will not hearken unto Him shall be cut off from His people, should seek a peaceful discharge from the tutorship of the law; for in truth it were insolence and presumption, when the king is present and addressing the people, for one of his attendants to make a speech over against him, and that to this man his subjects should incline their ears. It was necessary, too, that the widow who had been increased with gifts beyond measure, should in festal strains return her thanks to God; and so the things which there took place were agreeable to the law. But, for what remains, it is necessary to inquire how, since the prophetic types and figures bear, as has been shown, a certain analogy and relation to this prominent feast, it is said that the house was filled with smoke. Nor does the prophet say this incidentally, but with significance, speaking of that cry of the Thrice-Holy, uttered by the heavenly seraphs. You will discover the meaning of this, my attentive hearer, if you do but take up and examine what follows upon this narration: For hearing, he says, you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing, you shall see, and not perceive. When, therefore, the foolish Jewish children had seen the glorious wonders which, as David sang, the Lord had performed in the earth, and had seen the sign from the depth and from the height meeting together, without division or confusion; as also Isaiah had before declared, namely, a mother beyond nature, and an offspring beyond reason; an earthly mother and a heavenly son; a new taking of man’s nature, I say, by God, and a child-bearing without marriage; what in creation’s circuit could be more glorious and more to be spoken of than this! Yet when they had seen this it was all one as if they had not seen it; they closed their eyes, and in respect of praise were supine. Therefore the house in which they boasted was filled with smoke.
XII. And in addition to this, when besides the spectacle, and even beyond the spectacle, they heard an old man, very righteous, very worthy of credit, worthy also of emulation, inspired by the Holy Spirit, a teacher of the law, honoured with the priesthood, illustrious in the gift of prophecy, by the hope which he had conceived of Christ, extending the limits of life, and putting off the debt of death— when they saw him, I say, leaping for joy, speaking words of good omen, quite transformed with gladness of heart, entirely rapt in a divine and holy ecstasy; who from a man had been changed into an angel by a godly change, and, for the immensity of his joy, chanted his hymn of thanksgiving, and openly proclaimed the “Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” Not even then were they willing to hear what was placed within their hearing, and held in veneration by the heavenly beings themselves; wherefore the house in which they boasted was filled with smoke. Now smoke is a sign and sure evidence of wrath; as it is written, “There went up a smoke in His anger, and fire from His countenance devoured; ” and in another place, “Amongst the disobedient people shall the fire burn,” which plainly, in the revered Gospels, our Lord signified, when He said to the Jews, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate.” Also, in another place, “The king sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burnt up their city.” Of such a nature was the adverse reward of the Jews for their unbelief, which caused them to refuse to pay to the Trinity the tribute of praise. For after that the ends of the earth were sanctified, and the mighty house of the Church was filled, by the proclamation of the Thrice Holy, with the glory of the Lord, as the great waters cover the seas, there happened to them the things which before had been declared, and the beginning of prophecy was confirmed by its issue, the preacher of truth signifying, as has been said, by the Holy Spirit, as it were in an example, the dreadful destruction which was to come upon them, in the words: “In the year in which king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord”— Uzziah, doubtless, as an apostate, being taken as the representative of the whole apostate body— the head of which he certainly was— who also, paying the penalty due to his presumption, carried on his forehead, as upon a brazen statue, the divine vengeance engraved, by the loathsomeness of leprosy, exhibiting to all the retribution of their loathsome impiety. Wherefore with divine wisdom did he, who had foreknowledge of these events, oppose the bringing in of the thankful Anna to the casting out of the ungrateful synagogue. Her very name also pre-signifies the Church, that by the grace of Christ and God is justified in baptism. For Anna is, by interpretation, grace.
XIII. But here, as in port, putting in the vessel that bears the ensign of the cross, let us reef the sails of our oration, in order that it may be with itself commensurate. Only first, in as few words as possible, let us salute the city of the Great King together with the whole body of the Church, as being present with them in spirit, and keeping holy-day with the Father, and the brethren most held in honour there. Hail, you city of the Great King, in which the mysteries of our salvation are consummated. Hail, you heaven upon earth, Sion, the city that is for ever faithful unto the Lord. Hail, and shine Jerusalem, for your light has come, the Light Eternal, the Light for ever enduring, the Light Supreme, the Light Immaterial, the Light of one substance with God and the Father, the Light which is in the Spirit, and in which is the Father; the Light which illumines the ages; the Light which gives light to mundane and supramundane things, Christ our very God. Hail, city sacred and elect of the Lord. Joyfully keep your festal days, for they will not multiply so as to wax old and pass away. Hail, you city most happy, for glorious things are spoken of you; your priest shall be clothed with righteousness, and your saints shall shout for joy, and your poor shall be satisfied with bread. Hail! rejoice, O Jerusalem, for the Lord reigns in the midst of you. That Lord, I say, who in His simple and immaterial Deity, entered our nature, and of the virgin’s womb became ineffably incarnate; that Lord, who was partaker of nothing else save the lump of Adam, who was by the serpent tripped up. For the Lord laid not hold of the seed of angels — those, I say, who fell not away from that beauteous order and rank that was assigned to them from the beginning. To us He condescended, that Word who was always with the Father co-existent God. Nor, again, did He come into the world to restore; nor will He restore, as has been imagined by some impious advocates of the devil, those wicked demons who once fell from light; but when the Creator and Framer of all things had, as the most divine Paul says, laid hold of the seed of Abraham, and through him of the whole human race, He was made man for ever, and without change, in order that by His fellowship with us, and our joining on to Him, the ingress of sin into us might be stopped, its strength being broken by degrees, and itself as wax being melted, by that fire which the Lord, when He came, sent upon the earth. Hail to you, you Catholic Church, which has been planted in all the earth, and rejoice with us. Fear not, little flock, the storms of the enemy for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom, and that you should tread upon the necks of your enemies. Hail, and rejoice, you that wast once barren, and without seed unto godliness, but who hast now many children of faith, Hail, you people of the Lord, you chosen generation, you royal priesthood, you holy nation, you peculiar people— show forth His praises who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; and for His mercies glorify Him.
XIV. Hail to you for ever, you virgin mother of God, our unceasing joy, for unto you do I again return. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongest unto the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the bread of life. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. Hail, you overshadowing mount of the Holy Ghost. You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing mother, of the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you before the beginning, making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father— the Prince of Peace, who in a marvellous manner showed Himself as less than all littleness. Wherefore, we pray you, the most excellent among women, who boastest in the confidence of your maternal honours, that you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in you, and who in hymns august celebrate the memory, which will ever live, and never fade away. And also, O honoured and venerable Simeon, you earliest host of our holy religion, and teacher of the resurrection of the faithful, be our patron and advocate with that Saviour God, whom you were deemed worthy to receive into your arms. We, together with you, sing our praises to Christ, who has the power of life and death, saying, You are the true Light, proceeding from the true Light; the true God, begotten of the true God; the one Lord, before Your assumption of the humanity; that One nevertheless, after Your assumption of it, which is ever to be adored; God of Your own self and not by grace, but for our sakes also perfect man; in Your own nature the King absolute and sovereign, but for us and for our salvation existing also in the form of a servant. yet immaculately and without defilement. For You who are incorruption have come to set corruption free, that You might render all things uncorrupt. For Yours is the glory, and the power, and the greatness, and the majesty, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever. Amen.
- See Joe Heschmeyer’s “The Feast of the Presentation: a Smoking Gun for Mary’s Sinlessness.” [↩]