Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Fourth Joyful Mystery

Him Whom You Presented in the Temple
The Presentation

The Fourth Joyful Mystery can be somewhat of a challenge for me, honestly.  It's the one right after the Nativity.  We already had the High Holy Day of the mysteries come up, and now we're just walking back and forth, and doing some stuff according to the law, and... Well, sometimes it just feels like the day after Christmas.  Nice, but nothing too special.

That couldn't be further from the truth.

The beauty of the presentation is that not only is it a sign of how Christ comes as a fulfillment of the law, but also because it is in a way the first unveiling, the first time that he is presented in public in the scriptures.  

"But what about the night of the nativity?" you ask.  "What about the shepherds, and the Magi?"

Well, by analyzing scripture, the Magi did not come until at least 41 days after the birth of Christ, after the presentation.  We know this because the presentation occurred after the days of purification for mother and child were completed, which Leviticus 12:2-4 numbers at 40.  

More than that, Matthew tells that the night the Magi came to pay Christ homage, Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt at the command of an angel, which means they came after the presentation had been accomplished.

As for the Shepherds, they're a pretty small group, and not really what we would think of as the "general public" per se.  So aside from them and maybe the family who Joseph and Mary may have been staying with, the presentation at the temple really is the first time that Jesus is presented to the world.

That's what makes this a big deal.

So it is that we come to the Temple, the Mosaic prescription for their purification having been satisfied.  Remember how important the first born was to this culture, especially the first born male?  He was the one who would become the head of the family one day.  He was the one spared during the Passover when every other first born male in Egypt died.

More than that, that practice was a prefigurement of this very event.  It was a part of Jewish custom so that in the fulness of time, when the only-begotten Son of the Father, the first born of all creation was born as a human, he would be consecrated to the Lord in his sacred humanity.  

Here we are in the Temple, " present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, «Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord...»" (Luke 2:23).  This is where Mary gives us her son, brings him to us in public for the first time, and it is here that something very special happens, described by Luke 2:25-35:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him.  It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.  He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
"Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel." 
The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 
"Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
His words are considered so important that they are called the Canticle of Simeon, or the Nunc Dimittis, after the first two words in Latin (Now you dismiss), and is included in Compline (Night Prayer) in the Liturgy of the Hours.  However, what I'd really like to focus on for the remainder of this post is the last part, which he says to Mary directly.

"Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."

If you have ever seen the image of two hearts side-by-side, both radiant and on fire, one wrapped in a crown of thorns and the other pierced by a sword, this is why.  They are the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  In this passage, Simeon is foretelling the sorrow of Mary to see her son crucified, to stand at the foot of the cross, offering Him to His eternal Father.

So we too ask that as our mother, given to us through John at the foot of the cross, would present us and consecrate us to the Lord.  One very beautiful way to do this is to complete the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary according to Sr. Louis de Montfort.  I can't vouch for every opinion on this site, but it does have some great resources, including this guide to the devotion.

Mary, our Mother,
Whose heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow,
Reveal the contents of our hearts and minds.

Show us where we fail to live
As children who have been presented to the Father
By our baptism.

Pray for us to your Son
That seeing our failings, we may bring them to Him,
to live the abundance of life which He promised.


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