Mal. 3:1-4; Lk. 2:22-32
Today’s Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary takes place forty days after Christmas. Fortuitously, it occurs on a Sunday this year, so that we can all celebrate it. This feast has been observed from time immemorial. The first written record we have of it is in the 380s from a pilgrim who returned from Jerusalem. It coincides with Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. Both the Blessed Mother and the Lord are presented as an expression of that faith and docility before God and religion whereby we enter into the promise and plan of salvation. Hence, it is a feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary but it is also a feast of the Lord. This shows the close association of the Blessed Mother with our Lord in the work of salvation and her unique role in salvation history, recognized from the beginning. From the beginning of the Paschal Mystery, Mary is present, and she is present at the end, so much so that the Second Vatican Council calls her the Mediatrix of All Graces. This calls to mind the singular moment whereby her yes to God at the Annunciation, prepared by the Immaculate Conception, brought forth the Incarnation of the Lord. This one portal, through which all our grace is made possible, is memorialized in the Blessed Virgin Mary, God’s instrument in salvation, and the Lord, our salvation, the source of all grace, the Light of the World.
The blessing of candles and procession give us a sign of today’s observance. Our Old Testament reading foretells the coming of the Lord into the temple, Who will offer a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord. In the Gospel, Simeon will go on to say this Child will be the cause of the rise and fall of many in Israel, and, to Mary, a sword will pierce your heart. These refer to the Sacrifice of the Cross which our Lord will go forth to endure, the Sacrifice acceptable to God the Father, for the salvation of all the world, the Sacrifice which we offer today in this Mass, in this temple, and in every Mass. Now, the Lord, who will offer the acceptable Sacrifice enters into the temple. This is what we symbolize by the procession with candles into the sanctuary. Bearing our candles, we are like Mary, accompanied by Christ and bringing Christ into the world.
The Old Testament prophet Malachi asks, and who will do this? The Lord God Himself provides the Sacrifice, and He will purify the sons of Levi, Old Testament Israel. And He also transforms us and leads us by His grace to the temple of heaven. The readings give us two beautiful metaphors for this.
The Old Testament reading says he will as if to purify gold. We do not know much of this in our day. But the way the fuller purifies gold is that by stages, he takes away anything which is not the gold, and he knows his work is done when can look into that gold plate and see his own image reflected back to him. We were made in the image and likeness of God. By our baptism, we were recreated in the image and likeness of Christ the Son. By stages, the events in our lives, the deepening of our faith, even the mysterious times which we do not entirely understand, by these He does it, He brings about more perfectly His image and likeness and that of His Son in us.
This feast also expresses itself in the symbol of light. Christ is the Light of the World. As we are still in the Season of Epiphany, it reminds us of the Magi, who were led by the light of a star to the Lord. They were not of the people of Israel. Hence, it is the destiny of every person to seek, and find, and follow that light, which we know to be Christ the Lord. The Magi followed the light, but they also encountered darkness, in the palace of Herod. The light could not be seen there, so darkened was that place by self-seeking, envy, and jealousy. The darkness made Herod insane. He slaughtered the Innocents. But the Magi believed the Scriptures which said that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and when the proceeded, the light of the star reappeared, and led them to the house where Jesus was.
When our holy father, Pope Francis, gave his homily on the Feast of the Epiphany, he referred to a psalm, which is a favorite of mine and has seen me through many a day, Psalm 119:105: “Your word, Lord, is a lamp for me feet and a light for my eyes.” David was a shepherd. In order to shepherd the flock at night, the shepherd would attach a bit of wax and wick to his shoe, so that it gave him light to see, but only for the very next step. Sometimes we see the big picture, we see where we are going and how to get there. Sometimes, we have light only for the very next step, but that is enough. God leads us. And He does not want us to worry about step six, seven, or eight, because when we get there, He will be there too, with His light, to lead our path to His Providential care for us.
And so, on this feast of Mary and this feast of the Lord, we encounter the Christ and are in communion with Him. We bear Him in our lives and He accompanies us. And He transforms and guides us by the light of His One Sacrifice to the fullness of the life of God.