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The Liturgical Calendar: The Church Remembers

Today the church remembers The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple.

Ancient Jewish custom prescribed that a woman who had borne a male child should, forty days after giving birth, come to the temple to be “purified” (Leviticus 12). Furthermore, it was customary to present publicly every firstborn male child to God in the temple (Exodus 13:2, 12). Therefore, Mary and Joseph went up to the temple for her Purification and Jesus’ Presentation.

In the temple, to everyone’s surprise, a devout old man, Simeon, who was full of the Holy Spirit and “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” took the infant Jesus in his arms and praised God in the words of the now familiar Nunc dimittis. In this canticle Simeon proclaimed Jesus “a Light to enlighten the nations.” For this reason, in medieval times the Nunc dimittis was sung and candles were blessed and lit and carried in procession through the streets on the night of this feast. It is still called “Candlemas” in England, and the ancient “Feast of Lights” is still sometimes observed in connection with this occasion. Certainly a reflection on the Nunc dimittis (The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 66, 120) is always an appropriate devotion for this day.

Almighty God, we pray that as your only Son our Savior was presented in the temple of the old covenant, so we, who are the temple of his Holy Spirit, may come before you with pure and clean hearts. Amen.

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