We begin the week of Monday Feb. 2 with the beautiful and very ancient feast day of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. It occurs 40 days after the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) and thus we have one more “look back” or a “ liturgical echo” of the beautiful season we have just passed through. The Feast of the Presentation is centered around the presentation of the newly born Christ child in the Temple by Mary and Joseph, as was the custom. The account can be found in St. Luke’s Gospel (2:22-38). We find there the powerful and poignant responses of Anna and Simeon.
The words of Simeon are sometimes called in Latin the “Nunc Dimittis,” and make up the third of St. Luke’s canticles that are prayed or sung in the Liturgy of the Hours—this one at night prayer or, as it sometimes called Compline. The exact wording of this canticle in the Liturgy of the Hours is, “ Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”
The wording “light to the nations” refers to Jesus, and that is why candles, as a source of light, are blessed on this day at Mass. There are, in fact, three liturgical variations for the blessing at Mass on this day. Blessed candles are what we call “sacramental,” and in our homes they are reminders of the presence of Christ, the Light of the World. My mother often lit our blessed candles at home during times of storms and tornado weather. This day not only teaches us once again of letting Christ the “Light of the World” shine into our lives and those around us, but how “sacramentals” such as candles teach us and remind us to do just that.
There is another important dimension attached to this celebration. I have been privileged to be present over the years at celebrations of vows of religious women and men where candles were used. Here candles symbolically remind us that the calling and vocation of the consecrated life is a special reflection of Christ the Light of the World. For this reason Saint John Paul II designated in 1993 ( I believe) the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord as a special world day of prayer for, and recognition of, the gift of the vocation of consecrated life. We will be having our annual Mass and celebration of this day at Holy Family Cathedral this coming Saturday afternoon (Feb. 7) at 4 p.m. It is a beautiful Mass where all the religious who are present renew their vows.
This Mass is a chance to recognize and thank the religious in our diocese who are present in prayer and ministry in so many ways. This year’s celebration also is seen in the context of an entire year dedicated to the consecrated life, which began last November.
As this year dedicated to consecrated life is before us , there will be a number of events and reflections that will help us to celebrate this gift of the Lord to his Church and the world.
May Christ the Light of the World bless us all in these first days of the new year.
The Most Reverend Kevin W. Vann
Bishop of Orange