Wednesday, May 25, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Presentation in the Temple

Luke 2:21-40:

[21] And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb. [22] And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: [23] As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: [24] And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons: [25] And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was in him.
[26] And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. [27] And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, [28] He also took him into his arms, and blessed God, and said: [29] Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; [30] Because my eyes have seen thy salvation,     [31] Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: [32] A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. [33] And his father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him. [34] And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; [35] And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed. 
[36] And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; she was far advanced in years, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity. [37] And she was a widow until fourscore and four years; who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day. [38] Now she, at the same hour, coming in, confessed to the Lord; and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel. [39] And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their city Nazareth. [40] And the child grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom; and the grace of God was in him.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

If you're anything like me, you will have spent many years meditating on this mystery incorrectly. What I mean is, you probably imagined that the presentation of Jesus in the Temple was about His circumcision. If you did, no hard feelings. After all, the text does mention circumcision, and we're neither Jewish nor scholars of Jewish ritual practices.

Ceremonial Uncleanness

According to Levitical Law, after childbirth a woman was considered ceremonially unclean (among many reasons a person could be considered so), and had to endure a ritual purification period of 40 days from the birth of a male child (80 if the child was female). This comes from Leviticus 12:[2]-5. Generally speaking, to be ritually unclean meant that you were cut off from contact with your community. So, during this time, Mary would have been in general solitude with Jesus.

There are three principles at work here. First, the newborn child is not yet considered holy. In fact, we're told this directly, that they took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord because every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord. So, prior to this presentation, the child is not yet considered holy.

The second principle, which you can find in Leviticus 10:[10], says that holiness and cleanliness (and likewise unholiness and uncleanliness) are really synonymous with respect to ritual purification laws. Uncleanness is a sign that one is not holy.

The third principle, which can be found throughout the Pentateuch (Leviticus 15:[20] for example), is that uncleanness is passed on through touch. Whether you touch a leper, or a corpse, or an unclean animal, or a woman during her period of uncleanness (after childbirth or during her menstrual cycle), the simple act of touching what is considered unclean makes you unclean.

And so, since a newborn is not yet presented to the Lord and made holy through ritual sacrifice, it is therefore to be considered unclean until that time. And since a woman has been in contact with the newborn since birth (since conception, yes, but there are "blood" considerations too that I don't want to get into), and so until the time when the child is presented in the Temple, she is also considered unclean.


However, because of the Covenant God made with Abraham (Genesis 17:[10]-12), which stipulates that a male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, the ritual separation of the unclean is temporarily suspended in order to complete this act. This is a separate action from the presentation of the child in the Temple at the end of the purification period. Leviticus 12:[2]-5 makes it clear that the woman's purification period continues on for the remaining 33 days from the day of circumcision, and that these rituals are two separate activities.

So, Mary and Joseph fulfill the Law of the Covenant by having Jesus circumcised when He was eight days old. By this action, every male child was brought into the Covenantal relationship with God that was established with Abraham. Women did not undergo circumcision for two reasons. First, women already shed blood (menstruation) as a consequence of the Fall, and second, they were brought into Covenantal relationship with God through familial association. This is why the Covenant was always tracked through male lineage.

Thankfully, Bethlehem is only 10km south of Jerusalem, so they didn't have a very great distance to travel. Though, I'm sure it was arduous enough for Mary, who had just given birth.

Ritual Sacrifice

At the end of the purification period, the newborn was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord. At this time, sacrifice was offered and the priest would pray for them, and they would be made clean and holy before God. Unlike other forms of uncleanness, wherein it was necessary to wash to be made clean, uncleanness from childbirth did not require washing. This is indicative of its inner/ritualistic character, rather than a sense that the child and woman were actually unclean.

The prescription mentioned in Luke about the sacrifice offered was a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. Technically, this is not correct. Levitical Law requires a lamb of a year old for a holocaust, and a young pigeon or a turtle for sin offering (Leviticus 12:[6]). The offering of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons is an allowance made for people who are too poor to be able to afford a lamb (and this allowance can be found in Leviticus 12:[8]). So, what we're seeing here is the fact that Mary and Joseph are poor, and they cannot afford a lamb.

But notice, there are two offerings being made here: a holocaust and a sin offering. A holocaust is a kind of sacrifice whereby the entire animal is burned on the altar. This is distinguished from other forms of offering whereby only a portion of the animal is burned, and the remainder is consumed. The ritual symbolism of the holocaust offering is thought to either be about the burning of the entire animal, as an act of highest honor to God (as opposed to a lesser offering of say, burned fat), or it is about the smoke that rises toward the heavens as a symbol of the mind of those offering the sacrifice being raised toward God. The Catholic in me wants to say it is a both/and matter.

So the holocaust is an act of worship, both as a physical offering of greatest quality, and as a turning of the spirit toward God. Notice also that the animal for the holocaust sacrifice, which Mary and Joseph could not afford, was a lamb. This may be considered a foreshadowing of Jesus' (who is the True Lamb) death on the cross, which was a perfect offering to the Lord.

The second offering is the sin offering. This is offered as atonement for sins against the community and the Lord. Usually, as with an offering made to remove ritual uncleanness, this kind of offering is made for inadvertent sins, as distinguished from guilt offerings. Thus, we may understand the Circumcision and the Presentation to be together accomplished in the Baptism of the New Covenant, which inducts us into the Covenant of Christ, and washes away our Original Sin, and making us holy before the Lord.

Note: Jesus needed neither to be "made holy" by these sacrifices, nor did he need a sin offering to remove sin, and likewise neither did Mary. This was a prescription of the Law which every righteous Jew had to fulfill. End note.


Have you noticed how many people are filled with the Holy Ghost before the actual institution of the Church and Her Sacraments? Here, we have such a one, Simeon, who had been promised he would see the Messiah in his lifetime. And he immediately recognizes Jesus as this Messiah, being inspired by the Holy Ghost to go to the Temple that day.

Praising God, he calls Jesus the consolation of Israel, the Lord's salvation, the light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel. And to Mary, who with Joseph was in wonder at these words, Simeon gave a prophesy about Jesus, that He would be the condemnation and resurrection of many in Israel, and a sign that would be contradicted. And regarding her specifically, he tells her that her own soul will be pierced, as it were, by a sword, by which the thoughts of many hearts would be made known.

This latter was a prophecy of the suffering she would endure by the suffering and death of her son. It is indicative of the role Mary would have in the work of Salvation wrought by Jesus. Her own suffering is efficacious, and causes hearts to shine forth, both the hearts who hate her, and likewise her son, and the hearts of those who love her, and likewise her son.


Besides Simeon, who made prophecies to Mary and Joseph about Jesus, there was also a prophetess named Anna, who made prophecies about Jesus. She confessed to the Lord; and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel.

Anna was of the tribe of Aser, one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel). This is noted because her father was Phanuel. That might be confusing because there's a Phanuel mentioned in the genealogies of Juda (another of the 12 sons of Jacob). These are not the same Phanuels.

Incidentally, there is an ancient place called Phanuel mentioned in Genesis 32:[30], which means I have seen God face to face, and my soul has been saved. It is fitting that Anna's father should be named thus, since her daughter did, in fact, see God face to face, by whom her soul was saved.

Anna was quite old. She had been a widow already for 84 years, and she lived with her husband for seven years from her virginity, which I'm going to take to mean that he died when she was approximately 20 years old. That makes her, at this point in the Gospel, about 104 years old.

But if you think that's crazy, what we learn about this woman is awe-inspiring. About her, we're told that she departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day. At 104 years old, and presumably for many years prior, she served at the temple day and night through fasting and prayer! What devotion! I've talked about the importance of fasting and prayer in previous posts. What we see here is a wonderful example of the kind of blessing God grants to those who devote themselves to Him in such a manner. She was blessed, for her devotion to God, with seeing the Saviour in her old age, and being allowed to prophecy on His behalf. What a gift!

But this is really what Jesus does for people as He enters their lives. He blesses them with such graces. Yes, He asks us to bear our crosses. Remember that Anna was a widow for over 80 years, and devoted her time and energy to fasting and prayer, true crosses indeed, so such blessings may take time in their arrivals, but they will come, if we have but the patience and devotion and the fidelity to Him and the Covenant He makes with us.

Praise God!

Thank you for reading!


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