Yes, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.
St. Luke 2:29-32, 34-35.
Full readings for the day: Malachi 3:1-4, Hebrews 2:14-18, Psalm 24, St. Luke 2:22-40.
Candlemas is one of my favourite days in the Church’s Calendar. Nobody has brought out the joy of this day better than Mark Frank when he preached at Candlemas during the seventeenth century.
Light up now your candles … it is Candlemas, become we all burning and shining lights, to do honour to this day, and the blessed armful of it. Let your souls shine bright with grace, your hands with good works; let God see it, and let man see it; so bless we God. Walk we ‘as children of the light,’ as so many walking lights; and offer we ourselves up like so many holy candles to the Father of Light. But be sure we light all our lights at this Babe’s eyes, that lies so enfolded in our arms; and neither use nor acknowledge any other light for better than darkness, that proceeds from any other but this Eternal Light, upon whom all our best thoughts, and words, and works, must humbly now attend like so many petty sparks, or rays, or glimmerings, darted from and perpetually reflecting thankfully to that glorious Light; from this day beginning our blessing God, the only lightsome kind of life, till we come to the land of light, there to offer up continual praises, sing endless Benedicites and Alleujas, no longer according to the laws or customs upon earth, but after the manner of heaven, and in the choir of angels, with holy Simeon, and Anna, and Mary, and Joseph, all the saints in light and glory everlasting. Amen, amen.
When the candles are blessed before the Mass for this day I try to picture in my mind the scene in the court of the temple with Anna, a prophetess, and the aged Simeon who “kept faith and fast” and were “waiting for the death wind.” In contrast the parents with their month old Child were at the end of their journey to Jerusalem, no doubt wearied, to fulfil their obligations under the Law.
There to meet them was Simeon who, prompted by the Holy Spirit, had waited for this day to come – to behold “the still unspeaking and unspoken Word” who would be not only “Israel’s consolation” but also for the Gentiles. Taking the Babe in his arms Simeon offers Him up to the Lord as the first born; later He himself will offer Himself as a perfect offering on the arms of the cross.
The prophetess Anna was also there to welcome the family. Like Simeon she was awaiting the day of redemption and spoke accordingly, so she too could depart in peace.
On what should have been a happy day, Simeon cast a shadow. Turning to Mary he prophesied that her Son is “set for the fall and rise of many in Israel.” But “a sword will pierce your soul.” I wonder how many times Mary would have remembered Simeon’s words throughout her life?
In this perspective Candlemas acts as a bridge between the joys of Christmas and the sorrow of Good Friday before that day ushers in that glorious eighth day. On that new day of creation everything living will be bathed in Christ’s most glorious light as He triumphs over the worst deeds of darkness - death. His light surpasses all splendour.
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple is another manifestation that Christ is indeed the Light of the world, and that in that light no evil can survive. As we shudder each day at the amount of evil present in our midst, it is important therefore that we who are called to live in His glorious light do not add any more evil into this world by our sins as we gently pursue the Gospel’s life of love, humility and truth. If we seek this Light with all our being then we shall be able, as Malachi reminds us, to “endure the day of His coming” when He will purify us in order to “be fit to bring [our] offerings to the Lord” (Mal. 3. 2 - 3).
The Holy Spirit had assured Simeon that “he would not see death” before he saw the Christ. So it is also a day when we think of our own Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine. It challenges us with the stark fact - have I actually seen and held Christ during my earthly pilgrimage, so I can “depart in peace”? In today's psalm the question is asked, “Who is He, this King of glory?” We are assured that He is “the Lord of Hosts”. This same psalm also invites us to open our doors so that “the King of glory may come in”. Let us on this Candlemas make sure our door is open, and we not only invite Him in but also bid Him welcome too. That way we shall always be prepared for death, even if we die with projects unfinished or dreams unfulfilled. Like Simeon and Anna we shall be content to “depart, having seen thy salvation.”
On this day the glory of the Lord shone as Simeon took the Child in his arms and gave thanks for the coming of the Saviour. May I too always give thanks for the gift of salvation though our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.