October 21, 2020

The Fourth Joyful Mystery: the Presentation in the Temple

“And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”)  and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”   Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;  for my eyes have seen your salvation  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed  (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.  She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 22-40)

I’m nearly afraid to start on these again, seeing as how we got an extensive dialogue going on the initial Mysteries, which I thought would be harmless, accepted by all topics.  Anyway, here goes.  The Feast of the Presentation (which is also known by the name of Candlemas, from the custom of blessing candles – since Christ was revealed as ‘the light of the world’ at His presentation – which are used during the year both in the church and also in people’s homes, and was known in its older name as the Feast of the Purification) is celebrated on 2nd February.  From this feastday arose the old custom (since discontinued) of “churching,” where women came to be blessed forty days after childbirth in what would have been their first public (to a greater or lesser degree) appearance outside the house.

It has often been pointed out that, since Luke mentions “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons”, that must mean that Mary and Joseph brought the offerings for the poor, according to Leviticus 12: 8:

And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.  And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.

So once again, we see that the Messiah is not going to be as expected; instead of being born into a rich or powerful family, the Son of David is to be found among the less well-off, the obscure, the ordinary couples coming to fulfil the Law of Moses with their pigeons in hand.

The imagery of Our Lady of Sorrows (Mater Dolorosa, Mother of Sorrows, the Seven Sorrows of Mary, Our Lady of Dolours) arises from the prophecy of Simeon that “a sword shall pierce thy own soul, so that the hearts of many shall be revealed”.

This is not very comforting news for a new mother bringing her firstborn to be presented to the Lord according to the Law; amongst the rejoicing and the declaration that the long-awaited salvation has come finally, there is the forecast that this will be achieved in a strange and unlooked-for way, the way of sorrow and suffering.  No forecasts of worldly triumph and success but rather the fall of many and a sign that is opposed.  Yet we are left with hope, with the rejoicing of Simeon and Anna that their long wait had been rewarded – though a strange kind of reward, if we are thinking of glory and recompense, for what does Simeon ask when the promised saviour has been revealed to him?  To be dismissed, like a soldier being relieved at his post; now he can die, now he can leave the world.  A strange mingling of light and shade, to go into the shadows of the grave at the very moment the light of light has come amongst the darkened nations.  Maybe a suitable mystery to meditate upon now in the month of October, the end of autumn when the long winter nights are coming and the short, grey, dim days are upon us, particularly as we anticipate the arrival of Hallowe’en and the remembrance and memorial of the dead – the saints of God and those we have lost from our own families and acquaintance.

Again, from the Anglican tradition of Evensong (the post-Reformation adaptation of the monastic hours by combining the Offices of Vespers and Compline), the “Nunc Dimittis” or Song of Simeon:

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFS6lO6WaaM’]

“And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

















  1. Enjoying the series immensely, Miss Martha…

    • Me, too. To me, there is no way to plumb the depths of these mysteries. You could cover each mystery every week for a year and still only be getting started. This is our faith, rather than power of positive thinking, faith-prosperity, better parenting principles, or cultural warfare, which seem to preoccupy the minds of most American Evangelicals. The gospel gets boiled down to a couple lines on a tract. We check it off, then we’re done with it. I doubt that everyone can use the rosary mysteries as a way to contemplate the gospel message, but perhaps it can be used to inspire other ways to more deeply embrace our faith. The stations of the cross are also priceless. The fact that we can’t seem to contemplate our faith in this way lends to our shallowness as well as our agitation. Christ left us with peace and we choose a frantic chase after things.

    • Glad you’re getting some benefit from it, Lee. Five (nearly) down, just fifteen more to go! 😉

      The good thing about the rosary mysteries is that it does bring to our contemplation these foundational principles of our faith. The Joyful Mysteries are pretty much the Incarnation and the Sorrowful Mysteries are, of course, the Crucifixion. In fulfilment of the prophecies, God became Man for our salvation. It’s that simple, and that deep.

      I can do the simple bit easily, but the deep – well, we’ll see. Luckily, the intelligent and well-read and thoughtful persons who post to the comment boxes do all the heavy lifting there for me 🙂

  2. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

    One of my favorite things about Anglican Mattins and Evensong is how three of the four traditional Canticles (Magnificant or Mary’s Song, Benedictus or Zechariah’s Song and Nunc Dimitis or Simeon’s Song) are from these opening chapters of Luke. I never knew why, but my Grandfather has always teared up at the reading of the story of Simeon and Jesus in the Temple. Unfortunately, he’s too far gone with dementia now for him to remember himself. But it still brings on that emotional response from him nonetheless.

    I am currently working on a simple choral setting for Nunc Dimitis for congregational use. I’ve got the melody and some of the harmony, but not all of it done, yet.

  3. Does the church still require the use of doilies?

    • It’s been a long time, probably since the mid-sixties, since head coverings were required for women. I assume that’s what you’re referring to.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Yeah. They were officially discontinued in the mid-sixties, but you still see them occasionally. Usually on older women and younger Rad-Trads. Never been to a Tridentine Latin Mass, but I’d expect you’d see more of them in use there, out of tradition.

        • When I was in grade school, my sisters sometimes forgot their veils. My Mom would give them her veil and wear a klennex on her head. It must have helped to develop humility.

        • I am old enough, as I think I’ve mentioned on here, to be at the tail-end of the Tridentine Mass and I can assure you all that as an eight year old I was dead jealous of my classmates who got to wear mantillas (what we called what you call “chapel veils”).

          This was about two years after the New Mass came in, and my mother had joyfully discarded her Sunday hats (she had three, if I remember correctly, that she used to wear in rotation). She hated having anything on her head – this applied secularly as well, so it wasn’t a religious protest! – and when headcoverings for women were no longer compulsory, she never again wore anything (unless, of course, it was raining and then she’d wear a raincoat with a hood).

          This meant that I didn’t get to wear the lacy mantillas some of my classmates sported, and although I’ve never really been a girly girl, when I was eight – like all little girls – I wanted a white veil too! I haz bin culturally deprived! 🙂

    • Only on one’s rochet, Leonora 😀

  4. The Presentation also calls to mind that the first born son of every family was dedicated to the Lord. The presentation of the first born Jewish son recalls that the Angel of Death passed over the homes of the Jews, but slew the first born sons of the Egyptians. Jesus is the Father’s first born–the acceptable sacrifice.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I don’t know if that principle still follows through, but I was the firstborn son of my family and it seems I got more into the things of God than the rest of my family. How much of that was unintentional “firstborn dedication”, how much of that was original Catholic baptism as an infant, and how much of that was just sheer weirdness…

      • I should have been clearer–in Scripture the Jews are told to dedicate their first born sons, first born animals and the first fruits of their labor to the Lord. Mary and Joseph were following Jewish worship and ceremonial by dedicating their first-born, even though the was the pre-existing Eternal Word, to the service of God. There was also a sense of paying a ranson for the life of the first-born. Mary and Joseph, knowing their son was the Son of God, paid ranson for the deliverance of their son.

        The Presentation looks back to Exodux but it also prefigures the crucifixion when the first born of God died for the sake of all people.

      • HUG,

        It’s nice to know that someone else thinks the same way that I do. While I was the second born, my older brother didn’t live too long, I was the only one in my family to be baptized Catholic and very one. I’m also the only one of 6 of my generation to maintain a life long faith. I hope and pray that the ones that I have lost contact with have returned.

  5. I’m being a pest. Sorry. Here’s a link to an Orthodox scipture/liturgical year study on the Presentation. It points out that in Genesis, the first born son was a priest. The Levitical priesthood formed when may fistborn sons refused to assume the priestly role. The Presentation has undertones of Jesus as the passover victim provided by God, but also Jesus as the eternal high priest.


    • No, not a pest at all – these are the kind of reflections that are drawn out of the Gospel accounts by the meditations. As you say, Rick, the element of sacrifice is present in this account, from the mention of the two doves for sacrifice (which we see St. Joseph holding in the Giotto fresco) to St. Simeon’s foretelling of the sword of sorrow to Mary.

  6. Lovely, Martha, As St Jerome (I think) said, the New Covenant is foreshadowed in the Old Covenant and the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant. So, with each of the Mysteries we see Jesus preparing for His Paschal Sacrifice, even at His Birth and Presentation in the Temple and we see His mother’s continued participation in God’s plan.

  7. Being able to receive spiritually and to know spiritually by way of deep intuition is, to me, an essential factor in this story. Since the Christ is always present, the question is whether we have developed to the point of being able to recognize this.