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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Luke 2:22–38]

FORTY days after His birth, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple of Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, as the law of Moses prescribed. They carried with them the usual offering of the poor, a pair of turtle-doves.

There was at that time in Jerusalem a just and God-fearing man named Simeon. He was looking anxiously for the coming of the Messias, the Holy Spirit having revealed to him that he should not die till he had seen the Christ of the Lord. Led by the Spirit, he came that day to the Temple, and seeing the Child brought in by Mary and Joseph, he took Him in his arms, and blessed God, saying:

 

Fig. 66. The Temple of Herod.

1. Temple, 2. Fort Antonia, 3. Gate of Nicanor, 4. Hall of Solomon, 5. The Golden Gate, 6. Outer Pinnacle, 7. Royal Hall, 8. Hulda Gates, 9. Subterranean Passage to the Lower City, 10. Gate for Suburb, 11. Bridge to Upper City, 12. Valley of Tyropœon, 13. Valley of Cedron, 14. Stone Palings with Inscriptions, 15. Steps to the Forcer

“Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word, in peace: because my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; a light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

He then blessed Joseph and Mary, who wondered at these things, and to Mary he said: “Behold, this Child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted1. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce1, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.”

There was also in Jerusalem a prophetess named Anna—a woman far advanced in years, who departed not from the Temple—by prayer and fasting serving the Lord night and day. She also coming in, and seeing the Child, gave praise to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all who were looking for the Redemption of Israel. And when these things were accomplished in obedience to the law of God, Mary and Joseph, with the Divine Babe, returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth, and dwelt there in peace.

The Faithfulness of God. By the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the prophecy of Aggeus (Old Test. LXXX) was fulfilled.

Jesus is the Messias. The Holy Ghost revealed Him as such to Simeon, who, full of joy, greeted Him as the Saviour of all men, and the Light of revelation to the Gentiles.

Jesus is God. Anna, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, testified to this, when she extolled the Child as “the Lord”, and joyfully announced that in this Child God had revealed Himself as the Redeemer.

Faith is a gift of God. It was only by the help of the Holy Ghost that Simeon and Anna were enabled to recognise in the Child Jesus the Divine Saviour of the whole world, of Gentiles as well as Jews.

Good works. Simeon and Anna obtained the great grace of faith in our Lord’s Divinity by a faithful observance of the law, by fasting and prayer, and a great inward desire for His coming.

Belief in Jesus Christ drives away all fear of death. Simeon now rejoiced at the prospect of death. Such a sensation was hitherto unknown in Israel. “Pious Israelites closed their eyes in death, weary of life and submissive to God’s will; not altogether hopeless, but full of horror of the future. Death was a thing to be feared, and each new day of life which was granted was looked on as a gain” (Grimm). But all at once every thing was changed. Holy Simeon had seen the Saviour, and was now ready to die joyfully. In fact, he did die very soon after; a pious tradition even goes so far as to say that he died before he left the Temple. He was thus the first to take the joyful news to Limbo that the Saviour was born and the day of salvation at hand.

Humility and obedience of Mary. Mary was without sin, therefore she needed no purification. Nevertheless she remained excluded from the Temple for forty days just as if she were an ordinary, sinful mother, and submitted to the law of purification which in no way applied to the most pure Mother of God. Her humility made her wish to appear in the eyes of the world as an ordinary, sinful woman. She wished, moreover, to give an example of obedience to the precepts of the law, her love of her fellow-creatures making her shrink from being a cause of offence and giving scandal by any neglect of the legal purification.

The Feast of our Lady’s Purification, or Candlemas. We keep a feast on the 2nd of February, forty days after Christmas, in memory of our Lord’s Presentation in the Temple. This feast has several names. First, it is known as the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus. Secondly, it is called the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But the usual and popular name for this Feast is Candlemas-day, because on this day candles are blessed before Mass, and there takes place a procession with lighted candles. Candles are blessed and lighted on this particular feast, because on it Simeon acknowledged and confessed Christ to be “the Light of the world”.

The dolours of Mary. Mary is, as the Holy Ghost foretold by the mouth of Simeon, the Mother of sorrows, feeling in her own heart all the sufferings of her Divine Son. The dolours of Mary are usually enumerated as follows: 1. the prophecy of Simeon, 2. the flight into Egypt, 3. the loss of the Child Jesus for three days when He was twelve years old, 4. the meeting with Jesus, carrying His Cross, 5. the Crucifixion and death of Jesus, 6. the taking down from the Cross, 7. the Burial of Jesus. Mary suffered for a longer time and more acutely than any of the holy martyrs, and therefore she is called the Queen of martyrs.

The “Contradiction” of Jesus. In what way has Simeon’s prophecy that our Lord should be a “sign of contradiction” been fulfilled? Even when He was an Infant, He was persecuted by Herod, and had to flee. When He began His public life, He met with the greatest opposition, especially from the Pharisees and Sadducees. The inhabitants of Nazareth thrust Him out of their city (chapter XVII). The Pharisees slandered Him and said He was in league with the devil (chapter XXVII); and, on the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, the Jews wished to stone Him as a blasphemer (chapter LIII). He was accused before Pilate of being a seducer of the people &c.; and His enemies never rested till He was nailed upon the Cross. Even after His Resurrection the opposition to His doctrine and His Church continued. “Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling-block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness, but unto them that are called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23, 24). And this contradiction on the part of the unbelieving will continue till Christ comes again to judge the world.

The testimony of the Holy Ghost. There had been no prophets in Israel since Malachias; but as soon as the Messias had appeared, the gift of prophecy was richly bestowed on those who believed. Zachary, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna, all proclaimed the goodness of God, who had given His only begotten Son for the salvation of the world. “For four hundred years the spirit of prophecy had been dumb in Israel: it was a long and dreary winter, but it was followed by the most glorious spring-tide! Song filled the air; for He had come whose name was Wonderful! The angel Gabriel, Mary, Zachary, Elizabeth, the angel who spoke to the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna basked in the ray of salvation which streamed down from heaven. Heaven itself streamed down with it; and the sons of the earth lifted up their heads with a feeling of rapture, for the Prince of peace had come and reconciled earth to heaven! The great God, the ‘Father of the world to come’ (Is. 9:6) lay a little Babe in Mary’s arms” (Stolberg). Thus was the advent of Jesus Christ, the Divine Redeemer, borne witness to in various ways.

APPLICATION. Have you, like Mary, always observed the commandments of God with exactitude? Against which of the commandments have you most often sinned? You too were presented to God in your Baptism, and you ought to belong to Him, to love Him and serve Him. Say thus to yourself: “I will keep God’s commandments all the days of my life.”

Simeon thanked God with a full heart for having sent the Saviour. In what way do you thank Him for the unspeakable grace of Redemption? You should thank Him every day of your life for the great gift of the Christian, Catholic faith.








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