The BCP

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Author: The Revd Dr Peter Toon

Collect

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech thy Majesty, that, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect Commentary

Jesus was presented in the Jerusalem Temple at the age of forty days, according to the requirement of the Law of Moses for a first-born male child. There he was greeted by both Simeon and Anna and thus there was a meeting of the five - these two, Mary, Joseph & Jesus.

From the fourth century, this event has been commemorated in the Church by a festival which was first simply called in Greek, Hypapante (the Meeting). Later in the Latin West it has been called "The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary" and "The Presentation of Christ in the Temple." The word, "Candlemas" is a northern European name for the festival because there had long been a procession with lighted candles at the mass on this day.

The Gospel reading describes the bringing of Jesus by Mary and Joseph to the Temple and their offering of a sacrifice as required by the Law (Leviticus 12:8; Luke 2:24) after the birth of a first-born son (Exodus 13:2,15) . It continues by presenting Simeon, a devout Jew, who was waiting to see the Messiah of his people. On seeing Jesus, he knew that he was looking at the Messiah and so taking him in his arms, he praised God and uttered the prayer we now call "Nunc dimittis." Then Simeon turned to bless Mary and Joseph and prophesied concerning the messianic vocation and work of Jesus. This small group was then joined by Anna, a godly widow, who also was waiting for the advent of the Messiah. After she had seen Jesus and also recognised him as the Messiah, she thanked God and spoke of the him as the Messiah to many people.

The Epistle reading from the prophecy of Malachi speaks of the Messiah coming to the Temple of the Lord to purge and to save. "The Lord whom you [Simeon & Anna] seek shall suddenly come to his temple..."

The reason why there has been a profuse use of candles in the keeping of this festival over the centuries is simple. It is to proclaim by visible sign the words uttered by Simeon concerning Jesus, " a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel."

The Collect in The Book of Common Prayer (1662 & 1928) is ancient and comes from the Latin through the history of the Western Church into English for the English Prayer Book of the sixteenth century. True to the original intention of the Feast, the whole emphasis in this prayer is upon Jesus, who was the center of attention in the Temple on his fortieth day. It is the commemoration of the first appearance of the Lord of the temple in the temple, that temple which he came to love, from where in his boyhood he found it so difficult to tear himself away, and the very temple that he honoured so highly as to cleanse twice during his ministry (John 2:13-18 & Matthew 21:12-13).

Of course, Mary, his mother, is there in the background, for after all she had given birth to the Messiah and, as a faithful Jewess, she had to offer sacrifice for her own ritual purification after giving birth to her first-born son. This is why in the West the feast has been also named for her.

Let us now turn to the actual content of the Collect.

"Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech thy Majesty." God the Father is both all-powerful and all-alive. He is not merely everlasting but everliving. And he is "Majesty," a most appropriate word here as what is being remembered actually happened in the temple of Jerusalem, the LORD's earthly palace in the time of the old covenant. He is the "great King over all the earth" (Psalm 47:2). Did not Isaiah see "the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up" with the train of his robe filling the whole temple (Isaiah 6: 1)?

"That, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in substance of our flesh." As Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God, One Person made known in two natures, divine and human, he is both of one substance with the Father and also of one substance with us. He shares our human nature, our humanity, our flesh and blood. As the infant of 40 days he appeared in the temple as boy, as human, as flesh, but Simeon and Anna were given eyes to see also that he was/is the Son of God who has taken to himself our human flesh.

"So we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts." We fervently ask the Father for the sake of his Son and by his Holy Spirit to assist us in our self-examination and penitence that we may know his forgiveness and cleansing, and thus approach him with purified hearts.

Perhaps here we can think of infant baptism followed later by confirmation and whole-hearted commitment to the Lord and his work. In such baptism we are presented by sponsors/godparents and then later we take unto ourselves the promises they made for us and we receive the strengthening of the Lord in order to be full and active members of his Church.

The ending of the Collect, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is the only use of "by" in the Collects of the editions of the Prayer Book from 1549 to 1662 in this way. Usually it is "through Jesus Christ." Perhaps it was directed against any idea of addressing intercession to the Blessed Virgin Mary by making it absolutely clear that Jesus is the sole and only Mediator between God and man.

One final comment. As the festival occurs in Epiphany, the season wherein the emphasis is upon the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, at his Baptism, and in other ways, it fits into this theme, being his earliest manifestation inside the house of his heavenly Father.

 

Epistle Malachi 3.1-5

 

 

Gospel St Luke 2:22-40.