Thursday, February 02, 2017

The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary

In the Law of Moses a woman after childbirth had to stay at home for a certain period and abstain from touching anything consecrated to God. 

This was a state which the Law called ‘unclean’. I imagine it must have been a blessing to her being thus allowed to stay at home and care for her baby. 

Forty days after the birth of a boy or eighty after the birth of a girl the mother would bring to the door of the Temple a lamb of a year old and a pigeon or a turtle dove: the lamb for a burnt offering in recognition of God’s sovreignty and in thanksgiving for her happy delivery, and the bird for a sin offering. 

These being sacrificed, the woman was cleansed of the legal impurity and was reinstated in her former privileges. In the case of poor people, a lamb was not required but two pigeons or turtle doves had to be brought – one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering.

Our Blessed Lady, the purest of virgins, in her great humility, came like every other mother for this ceremony of her ‘purification’, desirous as she was to honour God by every prescribed observance and act of religion. And being poor, she and St Joseph brought the offering appointed for the poor.

A second great mystery is honoured this day – the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. 
A first born son had to be offered to God and then ransomed back. So Our Blessed Lady would have offered her Son to the Father, and then St Joseph would have paid the priest five shekels. 

Then she would have received Him back in her arms and they would have been free to go 

However, a third mystery is put before us: the meeting of Simeon with our Saviour. For years Simeon had been praying for the coming of the Messiah. Like the prophet Daniel, he was a ‘man of desires’ and God had told him that he would live to see the One he so longed for. 

So besides the titles of Presentation (of Our Lord) and Purification (of Our Lady), this feast is also called in the East, ‘the Meeting’ (of Simeon with the Infant Jesus).

And because of Simeon’s prophecy that Our Lord would ‘be a Light to enlighten the Gentiles’ the custom grew up of celebrating the feast with candlelight processions. 

And so the title of ‘Candlemas’ was also given to the day.

So much on one day! And what fruit for us! How can we pray about this in the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary?

In all the mysteries of the Rosary it can help to place ourselves either with Our Lord or with His Blessed Mother as the mood takes us.

For instance, we see Our Lord, in the hands of His Mother, offering Himself as a victim to His Father. That is what we can do: indeed, at Mass it is what we should do. 

In the hands of Our Lady, we should offer Jesus to our heavenly Father, and offer ourselves with Him and in Him. That is a good way of praying at Mass.

Or maybe we prefer to put ourselves with Our Lady.

What is she doing?

She is offering to God the most precious thing in her life, indeed, that which is more precious to her than life itself. She is offering her Divine Son. 

Like her ancestor Abraham, she is offering absolutely everything to God. What a perfect model for us! Exceedingly difficult, no doubt, but it is a sacrifice that will be pleasing to God for all eternity.

Like Our Lady, then, we can pray for the grace always to be generous with God, always ready for any sacrifice he may ask of us. That was how the world was redeemed. That is the way we ourselves can ensure our own salvation and bring others to heaven with us.

It is the daily carrying of the Cross. Great fidelity to the holy will of God in the little things of every day is what Thomas a Kempis called the Royal Road of the Holy Cross and St Therese calls her Little Way.

Yes, the Feast of the Purification provides rich fare for our souls!

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