This lovely Flemish illumination of villagers making their way to church for Candlemas (you can just see the lighted tapers being carried in procession) captures the essence of today’s celebration.
The Presentation of the Lord marks the end of the Infancy Cycle, the true end of Christmastide. Our gaze now turns towards the public ministry and, very soon, we shall begin the Lent and Easter Cycle. But for a brief moment all is gladness and joy as we mark the dedication of Christ to the service of his Father. It is uncomplicated: a fulfilment of the Old Covenant which ushers in the New. Simeon and Anna stand as types of Israel’s long fidelity, and there is only that fleeting reference to the sword that will pierce Mary’s heart to give us pause. Every night the Church joins her voice to Simeon’s in his jubilant Nunc Dimittis. We, too, have seen the promised salvation, and we rejoice.
It was no accident that today’s feast was chosen for the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. Every religious vocation begins with a joyful dedication of self to the Lord’s service; and like every vocation in the Church, it is never for oneself alone. The whole village participates, so to say; and though the menace of that sword of sorrow is acknowledged, it is not dwelt upon. The light that enlightens the gentiles and the glory of his people Israel guides us every step of the way.
Yesterday I wrote in very personal terms about my own understanding of monastic life. Today I invite you to think more generally about the place of consecrated life in the Church — what it says to you, and what it asks of you. Of one thing we can be sure: it is a light that will never go out because it takes fire from him who is the Light of the World.
Note on the illustration
Simon Bening (Flemish, about 1483 – 1561) Villagers on Their Way to Church, about 1550, Tempera colours and gold paint on parchment Leaf: 5.6 x 9.6 cm (2 3/16 x 3 3/4 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 50, recto