1st/2nd February 2020

posted 3 Feb 2020, 05:48 by Parish Office

Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (1 & 2/2/20)


Isn’t the liturgical calendar of the Church an interesting thing?  We were in white vestments a few weeks ago for Christmas, then we went to green for Ordinary Time, now we go briefly back to white and next week we go back to green again.  Today’s feast is so important that it takes precedence over the usual Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time.  So why is it so significant?


Well, firstly because it marks an important moment in the life of the Lord.  Just as Christmas and Easter are important events that shape the Church’s year, the Presentation is important too, although of lesser importance than Christmas or Easter.


Firstly, then, what was the Presentation in the Temple all about?  Well, it goes back all the way to the time of the Exodus from Egypt.  If you remember, the Israelites had to sacrifice a male animal, one year old, from either sheep or goats, and smear its blood over the doorposts of their houses.  That night, the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites, but the first-born sons of the Egyptians died.  As a result of this event, the Israelites had to sacrifice to God all first-born male animals.  If they wanted to keep them, such as if it was a donkey, they had to sacrifice something else in its place.  For first-born sons, they obviously were not to sacrifice them to God, so they had to offer a sacrifice of an animal or bird in their place.  So the ritual the Holy Family celebrated in the Temple was something that all families were familiar with.


But this now is where it differed.  All these sacrifices pointed towards the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and on the occasion of Our Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, Simeon reveals that God has given him an inkling of what is to take place:  this child is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel.  He is destined to be a sign that is rejected, and of course His ultimate rejection takes place on the Cross, where He brings meaning to all the Old Testament sacrifices by being the sacrifice that ransoms us from sin and takes our sins away.  After that, there is no need for any more Temple sacrifices.


If you want a visual image of the Presentation, take a look at Our Lady’s altar.  On the left-hand side is a depiction of the Presentation, with what looks a bit like a baptismal font (although it isn’t), with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and Simeon and Anna.  For us, of course, our equivalent now as Christians is our baptism, which is maybe why the artist has depicted the scene with what looks like a baptismal font.  When we are baptised, it is the sacrifice of Christ that takes our sins away, washes us of Original Sin, gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit and incorporates us into His Church.  We are consecrated and set aside for the worship of God, to live a life that is a life-long worship of God, and we are withdrawn from being instruments of sin.  That is our baptismal presentation, or consecration, to God.


Then, at the end of our life, there is another link with the Presentation.  Since the reforms of Vatican II, when it’s possible, the last sacrament anyone receives as part of the Last Rites is not the Sacrament of Anointing, although this is still part of it; the last sacrament you receive is Viaticum, which is your final Holy Communion as food for the journey from this life to the next.  Simeon took the Christ-child in his arms and blessed God, saying:


“Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,

just as you promised;

because my eyes have seen the salvation

which you have prepared for all the nations to see”.


In the same way when we receive Viaticum at the end of our lives, we receive the Lord into our soul.  Our prayer, too, is, “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace...”  For practical reasons, it isn’t always possible for a dying person to receive Holy Communion.  Often in hospital people are maybe unconscious, or unable to swallow, or some other reason prevents Viaticum, so still the Anointing of the Sick is the last sacrament they receive.  But, when it is possible, Viaticum is the last sacrament.  Occasionally it’s the case that people who are housebound die on their own at home without anyone calling a priest.  But because they have been receiving Holy Communion at home, their last Holy Communion is in a sense their Viaticum.  They have received the Lord, and gone to the Lord in peace.


So the Presentation is an important feast, rich in significance.  It points towards Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father as the ultimate sacrifice, and it reminds us of our own baptism and of Viaticum at the end of our lives.