The feast of the presentation of the Lord at the temple

Today marks for many what is the traditional end of Christmas, the presentation of the Lord at the temple and the purification of Mary.

When the days were completed for their purification[b] according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” 24 and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel,[c] and the holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. 27 He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, 28 he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

29 “Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; 34 and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted 35 (and you yourself a sword will pierce)[d] so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. 38 And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:22-40)

Candlemas was an especially important day to G. K. Chesterton. He marked it by writing an entire volume of poems titled The Queen of the Seven Swords. In it he makes specific reference to the day in his poem, The Paradox

The sons of reason sin not and throw stones,
Nor guess where burn behind the battered door,
In shining irony of Candlemas,
A hundred flames to purify the pure.

Chesterton himself was known as “the Prince of Paradox” as he was forever interested in this form of God’s higher thinking. It permeates all of his works. So it should be as no surprise that when attempting to capture the most paradoxical of moments – “a more profound and provocative image [of] God looking at God in the reflection of his mother’s eye” – as Dale Ahlquist, President of the Chesterton Society puts it, Chesterton evokes both the image of the double-edged sword and the Cross of Christ together as Jesus is presented as God the Son to God the Father.

It is this moment, when Simeon prophesies that Mary is pierced to the heart as with a sword which Chesterton captures in his poem, The Towers of Time

She walks so near who had wandered far
And the heart of the swords, the seven times wounded,
was never wearied as our hearts are.

READ The Queen of the Seven Swords (PDF download)

Aert de Gelder, Simeon’s Song of Praise, c. 1705 (photo: Public domain)

Candlemas Prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, who appearing this day among men in the substance of our flesh, and wast presented by Thy parents in the temple; whom the venerable and aged Simeon, enlightened by the light of Thy Spirit, recognized, received, and blessed: mercifully grant, that enlightened and taught by the grace of the same Holy Spirit, we may truly acknowledge Thee, and faithfully love Thee; who with God the Father in the unity of the same Holy Spirit livest and reignest God, world without end.
R. Amen.

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