Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God. How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star, and its light was exceedingly great above them all. And there was agitation felt as to whence this new spectacle came, so unlike to everything else [in the heavens]. Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared; ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life. And now that took a beginning which had been prepared by God. Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death. (St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0104.htm )
Tomorrow is Candlemas, an important part of our ancient heritage. Known as the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Candlemas is a day of wonder: Mary, ever-virgin, didn’t need purification nor did Jesus, fully God and fully human, need circumcision. They did so out of obedience to God’s law and their ‘magisterium’ of the time, fulfilling their ‘vocation’. Oddly, St. Joseph is barely noted in the scriptures, although the father as head of the family would normally receive the focus in rituals. Our scriptures do not intend to belittle Joseph but, rather, rightly focus us on Jesus as well as the role the Mother of God plays in our salvation.
The presentation of Jesus is the return of the “Glory cloud” to the Temple. God had partially revealed Himself to the Jews a few times by coming in a cloud of Glory: on Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16), in the Tabernacle in the desert (Num 9:16-18), and when the temple in Jerusalem was consecrated (1Kings 8:10-11). Now in the tiniest, most vulnerable form—a baby–Jesus brings God’s revelation fully to all who can see.
Fulfilling these rituals was necessary to ensure the law of the Torah was carried out perfectly. We saw this first happen with Jesus’ circumcision and now this week with His presentation in the temple and purification of Mary. If we fast-forward to His passion and death that would take place 33 years later, we then know why it had to be. For the prophecies to come true, a perfect and perfectly innocent ‘lamb’ had to be ‘sacrificed’. By fulfilling the Mosaic law perfectly from the time He was born, Jesus was innocent at the time condemned and put to death. (1Sam 19:5; MT 26:66, 27:24; Jn 19:4, 7; IS 53:7)
There is much to reflect upon for this feast day. God’s gift of Himself to all the World. God’s personal gift to Simeon, his faithful and humble servant. Simeon’s reaction of thanksgiving. And Mary’s quiet obedience in it all. Grace is given to the humble, and we have much we can learn from Mary, Mother most Pure. It was through Mary whom “eternity entered into time” (St. John Paul II) so that Eternity could enter into us. In his sermons for festivals, the revered Fr. John Tauler (14th cent.), gives us a deep meditation on Mary:
“Now, learn, how the blessed Virgin was prepared when she should conceive the Son of God, though her holiness cannot be perfectly comprehended even by the understanding of Angels. According to the meaning of the letters of her name, Mary, she was raised up in the three highest powers of her soul unto God, she became one spirit with God, and she was taught by Him; for she resigned herself as a fitting instrument to His dear Will, in fervent love for His glory. She was poor in spirit, and always bore herself in God with deep humility and self-annihilation; for she had no desires, no will, and was as passive, as though she were uncreated. And thus an entrance was made for God into her spirit, soul, and body. She was pure in spirit, for she never clung with delight to the gifts of God, and did not use them for her own pleasure. She was pure in soul, for she never delighted in any creature, but her soul was adorned with all virtues. She was pure in heart and body, for she was never moved to sin; and thus she was like unto the bright and shining Angels. Although she was the most beautiful of all women, yet none could look upon her with evil desires, because of her angelic purity. She was fervent in spirit, for her sweet ecstasy and longing so moved the Divine Godhead that the fervent love of the Holy Trinity welled forth and was poured out upon her. She was fervent in soul, for all the powers of her soul were always lifted up in the praise of God. She was fervent in heart, for her heart was opened unto the Lord, and it penetrated with fervent longings the incomprehensible depths of the Godhead; for she found there that which she most loved; and, by her inner sweetness, she was well-pleasing unto the Almighty, clinging to the Eternal Goodness by her love to fill her with all things and to give her power over all that he had; for she lived not to herself but to Him alone, Who is the Life of all living.
From first to last all that she did was done in God, and was full of a pure and godlike intention; for she was at all times united with God, and never turned away for an instant from His Presence. Therefore the likeness of no creature was ever found in her or had access to her; for, with the Angels, she looked on all things simply in God; and found God alone at all times in the depths and very being of her soul, in the innermost parts of her spirit. Therefore she did not go forth with all her powers to seek for greatness and variety, but at all times she abode simply outside herself in God and God in her. Most perfectly and with all her powers she meditated on the Source from Which she came.
Poor, pure, fervent and divine, she was more like a heavenly creature than an earthly one; in spirit she was the Heaven of God; in her soul the Paradise of God; in her body the Palace of God; and she was filled with the Divine Brightness, so that she needed no mediator with God.” (The Inner Way: Thirty-Six Sermons For Festivals By John Tauler Op; Sermon IX: On the Annunciation of our Lady, p. 58)
As we reflect upon the Holy Family, we recognize the Church is comprised of fractured families. Each of us still attending mass is the lifeline for the rest. We need to keep ourselves strong in faith and maintain our footing so that lifeline remains unbroken. Physically being present to our separated family whenever possible is important, of course, but the lifeline starts in our relationship with God and the chord is one of Love built through our continual acts of prayer no matter how small.
LORD Jesus Christ, who, being made subject to Mary and Joseph, didst consecrate domestic life by Thine ineffable virtues; grant that we, with the assistance of both, may be taught by the example of Thy Holy Family and may attain to its everlasting fellowship. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.
Image credit:Guido of Siena [Public domain]