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September 8: The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
This is page is intended to help those who wish to celebrate these liturgical days by providing: 1) Background and other historical information which might be helpful to understand the feast; 2) A summary of the theology underling this celebration; 3) A brief exegesis of the readings from Scripture and the other pertinent liturgical texts for the liturgy of the day; and 4) A sample homily.
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The information on this feast and the homily is, in large part, the work of Jeffrey Todd Nance, a participant in the seminar "12:635 Mary in the Liturgy" presented at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology during the Spring semester 2012 and is used with his permission; it remains his intellectual property.
I don't know that I would use the words Theological issues. I do however, think that there are a number of Theological concepts, that appear about in and around this particular feast. There is Mary, incarnation, hope, and faith, Mary as Mother of God, a Model of Faith, and cooperation with God. It would seem that it would be helpful to first understand something about the Blessed Virgin Mary. From the document Behold Your Mother "The story of Mary, as the Church has come to see her, is at the same time the record of the Church's own self-discovery." (USCCB Behold Your Mother: Women of Faith, P. 15) What that tells us is first who the Blessed Mother is and second the role that she plays in the Church and it's understanding of who we are today.
Looking at the Theological concept, of Incarnation, Mary is the Mother of God. She carried Christ in her womb. She carried Christ when she went to meet Elizabeth. The prefaces from the Sacramentary of Paul VI provide us with some beautiful insight. "In the wonder of the incarnation your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith a new and radiant vision of your glory." (P3 Pg. 379 Paul VI Sacramentary) They eyes of faith were opened for Elizabeth and her unborn child.
The world needs hope. Mary brought hope in the Visitation when she brought Christ in her womb in the house. "The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality." (P77 Pg. 527 Paul VI Sacramentary) The darkness has gone because of Christ coming first in his mothers womb. "His future coming was proclaimed by all the prophets. The virgin mother bore him in her womb with love beyond all telling. John the Baptist was his herald and made him known when at last he came." (P2. Pg. 377 Paul VI Sacramentary) When John leapt in his mother's womb he made known the coming of Christ and brought hope to the world. Hope that took away the darkness of the world.
Mary showed great faith when she said, "Yes" to the angle Gabriel. Mary showed faith when she carried her son. Mary showed faith when she went to visit her cousin. "Your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith." (P3 Pg. 379 Paul VI Sacramentary) Her "Yes" was her cooperation with God. She gave God a way into the world. Her cooperation is seen in her giving herself in allowing herself the be the Mother of God but also in her giving while visiting her cousin Elizabeth. Mary is the Mother of God. It is by becoming the Mother of God that Mary became a Model of Faith, at the time of the Visitation she showed that Model of Faith. "Through the power of the Holy Spirit, she became the virgin mother of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is for ever the light of the world." (P56 Pg. 485 Paul VI Sacramentary)
There are many different Theological concepts that can be found in the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While they may not directly relate to the story of the Visitation one can draw conclusions and inferences from different points.
ICEL: "The Sacramentary" . Catholic Book Publishing Corp. New York, 1985.
USCCB: "Mary in the Liturgy". USCCB. Washington, D.C. 2003.
The First Reading Zep 3:14-18a
It seems that the first reading two themes that are present are both joy and exaltation. It would seem that a new theme that is important is that God rejoices over each and every one of us. We are also told that, "God removes the judgment that are against us." (From the Reading)
Upon deeper reflection it would seem that there is also hope and reconciliation that is present in this reading.
Joy is an emotion that we have for God has delivered us he has made us whole. The fear and the darkness that we were once a part of is now given way to what is the joy of our own hope. God himself rejoices that we have been brought into the light. As we come into the light we have joy and exaltation the proclamation of the joy.
The joy gives us hope, hope in the resurrection hope that we are not condemned but that we are a people who have seen the light and know that we can share in the resurrection of Jesus.
Among you is the Great and Holy One of Israel.
This helps us to understand the first reading which God is exalted and the great one who brings us hope and who brings us reconciliation and understanding.
In the Gospel it is important to note the actual story of the visitation. This is important because of the Feast that is being celebrated is the Visitation. Here response is important. The reason is that this is Mary's yes that we read about which allowed for Christ to enter the world. Not that this was the only way that he could enter into the world but chose to come this way.
The second piece that is important is in this gospel is the Canticle of Mary. The canticle is something that those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours. The canticle is a good prayer that allows us to understand Mary's yes. It is a wonderful prayer that helps us to understand her yes but also to see her holy example.
Shout for joy
These are the words that we hear in the first reading today. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, comes to visit Elizabeth. Elizabeth who had been unable to be a mother is now with child. She exalts; she is glad; she is joyful; and she has much joy. What was thought to be impossible has now become possible.
Mary herself believes that it is impossible that she is to be the Mother of God, but she trusts God with all her heart and with all her mind. This is where we receive our example today from the Blessed Mother. The example isn't one single example but rather it is a couple of examples.
First: Mary shows us how to place total trust in God. Even when things in her life looked bleak, she stood with great joy and gladness. She exalted in the Lord our God. Mary showed us her example in giving herself not only as the Mother of God but also in her gift to helping Elizabeth.
This example that Mary shows us in her joyful and exalted "yes" is our example to follow Christ and to be joyful and glad that while we may not know where Christ is leading us, we are confident and joyful because we have said yes to Christ. We have set aside our own ambitions or own thoughts and feelings. Just as Mary gives herself to God, so we give ourselves to God.
Forever and ever.
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The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Reading One Micah 5:1-4
Psalm 13:6ab, 6c
Reading Two Romans 8:28-30
Gospel Matthew 1-16, 18-23
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The Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe
The information on this feast and the homily is, in large part, the work of Jamie Dennis, a participant in the seminar "12:635 Mary in the Liturgy" presented at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology during the Spring semester 2012 and is used with his permission; it remains his intellectual property.
Reading One Ecclesiastes 24:23-31
Reading Two Galatians 4:4-7
Gospel Luke 1:39-48
When I read the first option for the first reading, the first item that caught my attention, was this phrase, "many nations shall join themselves to the Lord." This phrase jumps out at me for the huge connection with how as a result of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe a whole continent, a group of nations began to embrace faith in Jesus Christ. Several million people became Christian after the word of the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe happened. If I am not mistaken, this time of conversion was the largest ever recorded in Christian history. That is indeed the conversion of nations.
The second option for the first reading, is one which I usually hear during this celebration and one which I use during my procession on my farm. However, one thing I did not realize, is the inclusion of the end of the end of the 11th chapter of Revelation, "God's temple in heaven was opened and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple." I think this is very significant. However, it does seem odd at first glance, because it is like a snip of a story just appearing there for no apparent reason. However, the reason is obvious, if one thinks of the ark of the covenant. The ark held the presence of God. We could then make a connection with how Mary is the new ark, since she bore the Lord Jesus in her womb. In the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, she appears to be pregnant. Also, these appearances of Our Lady of Guadlupe happened just weeks before the celebration of Christmas.
The image of the ark we see in this reading, I also interchange in my praying of the Rosary when I pray the second Joyful Mystery, where Mary visits Elizabeth. I think of Mary as the ark being carried through the country side on the journey to take the presence of God with her to visit his people. We know from the Old Testament, that there were times when the ark was taken and paraded in the streets and countryside.
The Gospel reading which is used for this celebration, is one we see a lot with Marian feasts. However, the main point I get from the reading, which I think speaks most to me in light of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is the end of the passage, which begins the Magnificat. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord," I to me is the most significant. I think that phrase alone pulls together and sums up the whole reason Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego. Mary came to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. She did not come for her own glory, but for her son. At the same time, God shows his greatness in the meekness of Mary, who appears dressed as and taking on the appearance of the people she was visiting. I think Mary was showing the greatness and worthiness of the Mexican nations and how much greater they could be with the help of God and through his redemption. Becoming children of Mary, brings her new children to Christ and his Church.
[This homily is given in a small, country parish in the diocese of Owensboro, in an area with no Hispanics.]
I know this is the question a lot of you are asking, "Why are we celebrating the Mexican Mary?" Well, in fact, she is not just the patroness of Mexico, but she is the patroness of all of the Americas. Our Lady of Guadalupe is our mother as well as the mother of Mexico.
Briefly, I will tell the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and why this story is so important for us. It all started when the Spanish began to settle Mexico and evangelize. However, the evangelists were having a hard time converting the native Indians.
I believe the Indian's problem was they felt like they were being taught a white man's religion. I am sure that the art of that time portrayed Jesus and others in religious art as white, Europeans. I imagine that made the Indians uncomfortable. Ah but this would change.
One day, an Indian by the name of Juan Diego was walking along and get met this lady. She told him that she was the mother of the true God and she wanted a church to be built there on that hill for her son. She told Juan Diego to go to the bishop and tell him her request. Juan Diego went to the bishop and made the request. The bishop thought Juan was crazy.
Juan Diego was asked to provide a sign to back up his story. When Juan Diego went home, he found his uncle to be sick and probably dying. He decided going to find a priest to give his uncle last rights was more important than getting the sign from the lady. He tried to avoid the hill where he had met her. She caught him though. She assured him that his uncle would be okay. She told Juan Diego to pick some roses from the hill there and to take them to the bishop for his sign. It was winter and the flowers should not have been growing. They were actually roses from the bishops homeland, so they should not have been growing there anyway. Juan gathered the flowers in his cloak and took them to the bishop.
When Juan Diego was going to give the bishop the flowers, he stumbled and dropped the cloak and roses in front of the bishop's feet. On the cloak, appeared the image of the woman Juan Diego had met. The bishop and all gathered there knelt in prayer and awe.
This image was approved by the Church as being miraculous and thanks to this image, over 9 million or so natives were converted. This image spoke to them in many different ways.
As we heard in the first reading, the image clearly matched up with the image in the Book of Revelation. Also, the woman was clothed with the sun and standing on the moon. The natives worshiped the sun and moon, so Mary was in a sense telling them to not worship these things, but her son instead.
A lot of these native tribes practiced human sacrifice and especially sacrifice of children. In the image, Mary is pregnant. We know this by the garment she is wearing, which is a sign that she is pregnant. This is why Our Lady of Guadalupe is used in the numerous pro-life efforts.
I think that for today's audience Our Lady of Guadalupe presents new messages for us all of the time. I think one of her messages for today is one which she told the natives long ago. She is the mother of all nations, not the white people. In the image, she appears as one of them, one of the natives. I think in this way, she is preaching Christ's message of salvation. Christ became man for us, so to save us. What is not assumed is not redeemed. Mary continues the message by showing that Jesus is for all races and peoples.
Today, we need to remember that our Church is supposed to be truly Catholic. The word "catholic" means "universal." This is the Church that is everywhere and for all. We are to welcome all. Immigration is a huge issue in these days. We must remember that most of these immigrants are Catholic just as we are. We should welcome them with open arms. Yes, some that cross the border are causing us grief through crime and what not, but there are still those who cross the border who are simly looking for a better way of life and to have food on the table.
Whether we want to admit it or not, immigration is not the same thing as it was back when our ancestors got off of the boat. Being legal then and now are two very different things. Most immigrants today would like to get in legally but simply are not given the chance. It takes years in some cases for certain immigrants to come into the U.S. not all immigrants from all countries are treated the same way. This is just harsh reality. We need to stand up for those who are seeking a better life, while remembering yes there are criminals too getting in, we should not ignore that either.
Immigration it not the only issue. Race in general is still a huge deal. We in our parishes are having to invite priests from other countries, since we do not have enough priests ourselves. I have heard of some who have left at the beginning of Mass, because it was going to be celebrated by a black, African priest. Leaving like that is unchristian and an act of evil prejudice. I still have a hard time understanding why the color of someone's skin is so important, since I can't see skin color anyway. Also, we have no place judging priests from other countries when some of us don't promote vocations in our own country.
Most of all, we must remember to love all as Christ loves. Sometimes this love is hard to understand, just as it was hard for Mary to understand Gabriel's message about giving birth to the Son of God. We must do like she did. We must hold these things in our hearts and then we too as Mary did, and say, "My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior."
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Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
(This feast is a feast of the Lord in the 1969 Roman Calendar. In the former calendar it was a feast of Mary. Because of the important role that Mary plays in this feast of the Lord, it is included here.)
The information on this feast and the homily is, in large part, the work of a participant in the seminar "12:635 Mary in the Liturgy" presented at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology during the Spring semester 2012 and is used with his permission; it remains his intellectual property.
The feast of the Presentation of the Lord in temple, celebrated in Jerusalem as early as the fifth century, was adopted at Rome in the seventh century under the name Hypapante (that is, the meeting between Jesus and Simeon). From the tenth century the Western liturgical books listed this feast as the Purification of Mary. In accordance with the traditions of the Eastern Church, the Code of Rubrics for 1960 declared that this feat should be celebrated as a feast of the Lord. (Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars, p 93)
Variations: Purification of Mary -- The name of this feast is changed to the Presentation of the Lord so that it may be more clearly understood as a feast of the Lord. (Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars, p 93)
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple is a feast that has been celebrated in the Church from as early as the fifth century. (USCCB, Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars, 93). In the seventh century, it was adopted by the Church in Rome under the name Hypapante, which refers to the meeting between Jesus and Simeon. (Ibid.) Beginning in the tenth century, the Western liturgical books titled the feast as the Purification of Mary. (Ibid.) However, in the Code of Rubrics for 1960, the bishops declared that this feast should be celebrated as a feast of the Lord, in accordance with the traditions of the Eastern Churches. (Ibid.)
According to the Mosaic Law, mothers, after giving birth to a male child, were required to wait forty days before returning to the Temple to be purified. ("Candlemas," New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (15 February 2012). http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03245b.htm ) According to the same law, the first-born male child was to be dedicated to God in the Temple, and this was done at the same time as the purification. ("Ordinary Time: February 2nd," CatholicCulture.org (15 February 2012) http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2012-02-02
In the current calendar, the feast is celebrated forty days after Christmas, for that is when Christ's birth is celebrated. Historically, in places where Christ's birth was celebrated on the feast of the Epiphany, the feast of the "forty days" would be celebrated forty days after the Epiphany, approximately 14 February. ("Candlemas," New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia) Either way, the feast brings the Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary closely together, for ritual sacrifices are offered for both of them in the Temple. Thus, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord includes the Purification of Mary, but the focus of the feast should remain on the Lord.
The feast of the Presentation of the Lord seems to have few, if any, theological issues.
The event of the presentation of the infant Christ in the Temple comes directly from a passage in the Gospel of Luke, and this passage is proclaimed in the Mass of the feast day.
One of the central ideas in this text is the faithful observance of the law of the Lord. In the text, there is a footnote that reads, "The presentation of Jesus in the temple depicts the parents of Jesus as devout Jews, faithful observers of the law of the Lord ... i.e., the law of Moses" (NAB Luke 2:22-40). The law being faithfully observed by the Holy Family may be seen as two-fold. First, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph are fulfilling the law of Moses as prescribed in Exodus 13,
The LORD spoke to Moses and said, "Consecrate to me every first-born that opens the womb among the Israelites, both of man and beast, for it belongs to me" (NAB Exodus 13:2) ... you shall dedicate to the LORD every son that opens the womb; and all the male firstlings of your animals shall belong to the LORD (13:12) ... When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed every first-born in the land of Egypt, every first-born of man and of beast. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD everything of the male sex that opens the womb, and why I redeem every first-born of my sons (13:15).
Second, the Blessed Virgin Mary is fulfilling the law of Moses as prescribed in Leviticus 12,
The LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites: When a woman has conceived and gives birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period (NAB Leviticus 12:1-2) ... then she shall spend thirty-three days more in becoming purified of her blood (12:4) ... When the days of her purification ... are fulfilled, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the meeting tent a yearling lamb for a holocaust and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering (12:6) ... If, however, she cannot afford a lamb, she may take two turtledoves or two pigeons, the one for a holocaust and the other for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for her, and thus she will again be clean (12:8).
One of the theological issues pertaining to the feast of the Presentation of the Lord was settled by the revisions made to the Liturgical Calendar. "From the tenth century the Western liturgical books listed this feast as the Purification of Mary" (Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars). Naming the feast in honor of Mary, as opposed to naming it in honor of Christ, arguably removes Christ from the focus of worship. "In accordance with the traditions of the Eastern Churches, the Code of Rubrics for 1960 declared that this feast should be celebrated as a feast of the Lord" (Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars). This prudent change in title arguably removes any and all concern for this potential issue.
Another theological issue pertaining to the Gospel text of the feast may arise from a misunderstanding of the ritual purity prescribed by the law of Moses. The idea that a woman was unclean for forty days after giving birth may offend people, especially women, in the congregation who are unfamiliar with these ancient practices.
Reading 1 (Malachi 3:1-4)
In the proclamation of the first reading (Malachi 3:1-4), we hear the voice of the Lord God promising the coming of Christ through the words of the prophet. "The historical value of the prophecy is considerable in that it gives us a picture of life in the Jewish community returned from Babylon, between the period of Haggai and the reform measures of Ezra and Nehemiah" (NAB Mal. Preface). The Lord God promises "a messenger to prepare the way before me" (Mal. 3:1), a messenger who the Lord God later gives the name "Elijah" (Mal. 3:23) and who Christ points to as John the Baptist (Mt. 11:10). The Lord God speaks of the coming of Christ: "And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, [a]nd the messenger of the covenant whom you desire" (Mal. 3:1). The Lord God promises that Christ will purify the priests of the Old Covenant ("the sons of Levi" [Mal. 3:3]) so "that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord ... the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the LORD" (Mal. 3:3-4). This is a prophecy "whose fulfillment the church sees in the Sacrifice of the Mass" (Mal. Preface). This reading focuses on the purification of the people of God and of their worship of God, which is promised by the Lord God to come through Christ.
Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 24:7, 8, 9, 10)
In the singing of the responsorial psalm (Ps. 24:7, 8, 9, 10), we hear the people of God proclaiming in song the entrance of the LORD into the temple after returning victorious from battle, the LORD who is named the "Great Warrior" (Ps. 24, footnote). The entry ways of the temple are ordered to open wide for the entrance of the king of glory, "that the king of glory may come in!" (Ps. 24: 7, 9). The song resonates with the entrance of Christ into the temple in Jerusalem for the first time, to be presented and dedicated to God before the people. As Christ has already begun winning battles against the sin of the world in defeating Herod's attempt to kill him in Bethlehem, he is already fitting of praise as "mighty in battle" (Ps. 24: 8), and becomes infinitely deserving after conquering sin and death once and for all on Calvary.
Second Reading (Hebrews 2:14-18)
In the proclamation of the second reading (Heb. 2:14-18), we hear the author of the letter to the Hebrews expressing how fitting and necessary it was for Christ to become incarnate in order "to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17). As high priest, he offers the perfect sacrifice to God. As he is offered by his parents, Saints Mary and Joseph, in the temple according to the Old Covenant, so he offers himself on the cross, fulfilling the Old with the New Covenant in his blood. By his body, in his blood, which we receive in Holy Communion, we are redeemed and sanctified for perfect worship in the Mass. The author explains how "Jesus likewise shared in them [blood and flesh], that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death ... and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life" (Heb. 2:14-15). When we are freed from sin and death, we are freed to perfect worship and eternal life.
Gospel (Luke 2:22-40)
In the proclamation of the Gospel reading (Luke 2:22-40), we hear of Saints Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the temple, as was required by the Law of the Lord. Luke expresses here the importance of obedience to the Law of the Lord and of purity for the sake of right worship. Mary and Joseph obey God's Law in waiting the prescribed number of days for purification after the birth of Jesus before reentering the temple again to join in communal worship. And they reenter the temple in order to fulfill the requirements of God's Law that "[e]very male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons" (Luke 2:23-24), the sacrifice made by those who could not afford a lamb. The temple worship is so central to the life of the Holy Family that their life is oriented around their responsibility to follow God's Law in the temple, so that they may be found pure and fit for right worship.
Following this, we then hear of two others, Simeon and Anna, faithful Israelites found worshiping in the temple at the presentation of the Lord, "awaiting the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25) and "the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). Simeon, in his canticle, expresses belief in Christ as central to and the summit of the salvation of the Israelites, for with regard to Christ he says to God, "[M]y eyes have seen your salvation" (Luke 2:30). Anna, too, who is so faithful in her old age that she "never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer" (Luke 2:37), expresses belief in salvation through Jesus, for "she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). The faithful dedication in temple worship, for Simeon and Anna, finds its fulfillment in Christ.
In the end of the passage, we hear of the Holy Family returning home to Nazareth after fulfilling the requirements of the Law of the Lord. Here we see how the temple worship of the Lord God through Christ is not only the end of the story (as is expressed by Simeon and Anna) but is also the source from which life in "the favor of God" (Luke 2:39) begins and finds its meaning. The temple worship of the Lord God through Christ is the source and summit of the faith for all believers.
"He will purify the sons of Levi ... that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD" (NAB Mal. 3:3). The words of the prophet Malachi prefigure the source and summit of our faith--the Liturgy, in which we celebrate the sacraments, all pointing to Christ in the Eucharist. The sons of Levi, the priesthood of the Old Testament, prefigure the priesthood of the new covenant in Christ's Blood, signifying both the baptismal and the ministerial priesthood. Christ, "the LORD whom [we] seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom [we] desire" (3:1), purifies us through His sacraments, first by the waters of Baptism and then in the sacraments of healing, by the words of absolution in Penance and Reconciliation and by oil in Anointing of the sick.
"[H]e had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17). These words of the Letter to the Hebrews emphasize the power of the sacraments, offered by our great High Priest, to cleanse us of our sins, to purify us, His priestly people, that we may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
"He will purify the sons of Levi ... that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD." Again, the sons of Levi prefigure the priesthood of Christ, a priesthood in which we participate by being members of the baptismal and ministerial priesthood. We enter into the baptismal priesthood by the waters of Baptism, and we receive the priestly graces more fully by the oil of Confirmation. The priesthood in which we enter is for the sake of offering due sacrifice to the Lord, the sacrifice of the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We offer this sacrifice through the hands of the members of the ministerial priesthood, those men who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders. In the offering of bread and wine (not a due sacrifice by any means!), we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eucharist, the due sacrifice to the Lord. In offering the Eucharist, we consume the Body and Blood of Christ, and, thus, we are consumed into Communion with Him, "the LORD whom [we] seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom [we] desire."
As Holy Orders is at the service of Communion, so too is the sacrament of Matrimony. The most holy meal of Communion prefigures the wedding feast of the Lamb, to which we look forward, at the end times. The most holy marriage covenant, that between the Bridegroom, Christ, and His Bride, the Church, is celebrated in the Eucharist, the wedding feast of the Lamb, the meal of Communion. By the sacrament of Matrimony, Christ dignifies the marital relationship between man and woman in such a way that the relationship directs us to the Eucharist, the due sacrifice to the Lord. The husband and wife are also at the service of Communion through building up the Body of Christ by serving one another and by giving birth to children, raising them in the faith, and leading them to receive the sacraments of initiation.
"He will purify the sons of Levi ... that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD." The incredible graces that we receive through Christ in the sacraments are all for the sake of the Eucharist, the wedding feast of the Lamb, the most holy meal by which we enter most fully into Communion with the Lord. As this holy and eternal sacrifice was offered once and for all by Christ on the Cross, it is prefigured in many places throughout Sacred Scripture. One place of particular mention is that moment of Christ's life which we celebrate in a particular way today: the Presentation of the Lord. At this moment, Christ is dedicated to God in the Temple, the place of public worship, of the liturgy. Christ is dedicated according to the law of the Lord, first as proclaimed in Exodus, in thanksgiving to the Lord for passing over and not killing the first-born sons of the Israelites and for delivering them from slavery in Egypt; and second as proclaimed in Leviticus, with a sacrifice of atonement for the purification of the child's mother.
The law of the Lord demanding the purification of the child's mother is best understood in the context of the Old Testament. Blood, seen as the vehicle of life, was a very sacred thing to the people of Israel. Coming into contact with blood in any way (e.g. by the slaughtering of an animal, by an open wound, by touching an injured person or dead body, etc.) required a person to abstain from public worship, out of reverence for the gift of life, until the person was judged to be clean according to the prescribed measure of the law of the Lord. Only then was a person again ready to worship the Lord in communion with the people of Israel.
The purification of Mary, being so intimately tied to the presentation of the Lord, has played an important role in the history of our faith. In fact, beginning in the tenth century and until the Code of Rubrics for 1960, the feast was titled in the liturgical books of the Western Church as the "Purification of Mary" (USCCB, Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars, 93). The prudent change from this emphasis on Mary back to an emphasis on Christ was primarily made so that the focus of the feast would remain on the Lord and that the role of Mary would rightly direct the faithful to the Lord.
"He will purify the sons of Levi ... that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD." And, so, the purification is for the sake of the presentation. The purification of Mary is for the sake of the dedication of Jesus in the Temple. The expiation of our sins in Baptism, in Penance and Reconciliation, in Anointing of the Sick, is for the sake of the sacrifice of the Eucharist by which we offer right worship, the meal of Communion by which we are consumed most perfectly into the Body of Christ, the wedding feast of the Lamb by which we celebrate and look forward to eternal life in Communion with Christ in the Trinity.
So let us abide by the words of the Psalmist. Let us lift up our lintels "that the king of glory may come in" (Ps. 24:7, 9). Let us open our ears to receive Christ in the words of Sacred Scripture. Let us open our eyes to behold the glory of the Lord in His sacraments. Let us open our mouths to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Let us open our hearts, that we might be transformed into the Body of Christ, so that we might build up the Body of Christ in the world through charity. Let us receive the king of glory, that we, too, might be able to bless the Lord with Simeon: "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation" (Lk. 2:29-30).
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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved. This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own. Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it. This site was updated on 03/20/15 . Your comments on this site are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org