Cleansing Fire

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Now Mayest Thou Dismiss Thy Servant

February 2nd, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple, as well as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is one of my favorite feasts of the entire Church year, with so much richness of scripture, so much beautiful imagery and prophecy. Here is the text of the story of the Presentation, taken from the Gospel of St. Luke:

And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: 23 As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: 24 And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons:25 And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon: and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. And the Holy Ghost was in him. 26 And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. 27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, 28 he also took him into his arms and blessed God and said: 29 Now dismiss your servant, O Lord, according to your word in peace: 30 Because my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared before the face of all peoples: 32 A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel. 33 And his father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted. 35 And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed. 36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser. She was far advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity. 37 And she was a widow until fourscore and four years: who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day. 38 Now she, at the same hour, coming in, confessed to the Lord: and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel. And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their city Nazareth.

There are several points here which I would like to make. Primarily, you should note that, even though Mary was the sinless Mother of God, she was obedient to the Mosaic laws of her ancestors, and observed the rituals of purification. She was in need of no cleansing, and yet, like our Lord at His Baptism, she submitted herself to the desire of God and Jewish religious customs (which were also mandated by God’s will).

We should also note the role of Simeon, one of my favorite Biblical figures. You can picture him so vividly, a trembling, elderly man, who recognizes in the Holy Infant God Incarnate. He sees Our Lord, and then sees Our Lady, and utters one of the most beautiful prayers found in the entire Judeo-Christian tradition: the Nunc Dimittis. “Now mayest Thou dismiss Thy servant, Lord, in peace, according to Thy word. For my eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to the revelation of the gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” This could very well be the prayer recited by the faithful upon receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion.

Imagine the pride of Our Lady, holding her Divine Son, and seeing Him revered in such a way! Contemplate the tears of holy pride in her eyes, mirroring the tears of absolute joy in the eyes of Simeon as He gazes into the face of his salvation. And now, “in true prophetic form of old,” Simeon looks up at Our Lady in the midst of her joy, and declares, “Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.” The Blessed Virgin doubtless looked with shock at this feeble old man, now looking into her soul and telling her what is to come. But again, what holy pride she must have had! To have born Salvation in her womb, to see Him venerated as the God He is, and then to have the worshiper declare unto her that this mighty prince will be the “rise and fall” of many in Israel . . . all this, and then to be pierced by a sword of anguish. Contemplate the pains of the Blessed Virgin, who bore a Son knowing what the prophecies spoke of Him, that He would be a sacrifice for the sins of the people. Our Lady was well-versed in the Holy Scriptures, and would have seen the clear connection between Simeon’s prophecy and the prophecies seen from the earliest prophets of the Old Testament.

And yet, the Presentation is regarded by the Church as a joyful happening. After all, it is the fourth “Joyful Mystery” of the Holy Rosary. We regard with joy this bittersweet occasion for the reason that it explains so much. Christ is the revelation to the gentiles. He is the source of the rise and fall of many. He is the Son of God.

But now imagine Our Lady and St. Joseph turning and regarding Anna, the prophetess, coming forth and bearing witness to Our Lord’s divinity. What mystic confirmation of divinity! The Presentation shows us in absolute terms that Our Lord, born for us of the Virgin on Christmas, is truly “God with us,” Emmanuel.

For your listening pleasure are a few settings of the Nunc Dimittis which you may enjoy:

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One Response to “Now Mayest Thou Dismiss Thy Servant”

  1. avatar km says:

    Beautiful!!!!!! Thank you!!


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