The Purification of the Blessed Virgin,
Commonly Called the Presentation of Christ at the Temple
For the First Nocturn
The First Reading
(From the Gospel of St. Luke 2:22-24)
AND when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.
The Second Reading
(From the Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 2:22-24)
CYRIL Next after the circumcision they wait for the time of purification, as it is said, And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were come.
THEOPHYL If you diligently examine the words of the law, you will find indeed that the mother of God as she is free from all connection with man, so is she exempt from any obligation of the law. For not every woman who brings forth, but she who has received seed and brought forth, is pronounced unclean, and by the ordinances of the law is taught that she must be cleansed, in order to distinguish probably from her who though a virgin has conceived and brought forth. But that we might be loosed from the bonds of the law, as did Christ, so also Mary submitted herself of her own will to the law.
TITUS BOST. Therefore the Evangelist has well observed, that the days of her purification were come according to the law, who since she had conceived of the Holy Spirit, was free from all uncleanness. It follows, They brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
ATHAN. But when was the Lord hid from His Father"s eye, that He should not be seen by Him, or what place is excepted from His dominion, that by remaining there He should be separate from His Father unless brought to Jerusalem and introduced into the temple? But for us perhaps these things were written. For as not to confer grace on Himself was He made man and circumcised in the flesh, but to make us Gods through grace, and that we might be circumcised in the Spirit, so for our sakes is He presented to the Lord, that we also might learn to present ourselves to the Lord.
THEOPHYL On the thirty-third day after His circumcision He is presented to the Lord, signifying in a mystery that no one but he who is circumcised from his sins is worthy to come into the Lord"s sight, that no one who ho has not severed himself from all human ties can perfectly enter into the joys of the heavenly city. It follows, As it is written in the law of the Lord.
ORIGEN Where are they who deny that Christ proclaimed in the Gospel the law to be of God, or can it be supposed that the righteous God made His own Son under a hostile law which He Himself had not given? It is written in the law of Moses as follows, Every male which opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.
THEOPHYL By the words, opening the womb, he signifies the first-born both of man and beast, and each one of which was, according to the commandment, to be called holy to the Lord, and therefore to become the property of the priest, that is, so far that he was to receive a price for every first-born of man, and oblige every unclean animal to be ransomed.
GREG. NYSS. Now this commandment of the law seems to have had its fulfillment in the incarnate God, in a very remarkable and peculiar manner. For He alone, ineffably conceived and incomprehensibly brought forth, opened the virgin"s womb, till then unopened by marriage, and after this birth miraculously retaining the seal of chastity.
AMBROSE For no union with man disclosed the secrets of the virgin"s womb, but the Holy Spirit infused the immaculate seed into an inviolate womb. He then who sanctified another womb in order that a prophet should be born, He it is who has opened the womb of His own mother, that the Immaculate should come forth. By the words opening the womb, he speaks of birth after the usual manner, not that the sacred abode of the virgin"s womb, which our Lord in entering sanctified, should now be thought by His proceeding forth from it to be deprived of its virginity.
GREG. NYSS. But the offspring of this birth is alone seen to be spiritually male, as contracting no guilt from being born of a woman. Hence He is truly called holy, and therefore Gabriel, as if announcing that this commandment belonged to Him only, said, That Holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called, the Son of God. Now of other first-borns the wisdom of the Gospel has declared that they are called holy from their being offered to God. But the first-born of every creature, That holy thing which is born, &c. the Angel pronounces to be in the nature of its very being holy.
AMBROSE For among those that are born of a woman, the Lord Jesus alone is in every thing holy, who in the newness of His immaculate birth experienced not the contagion of earthly defilement, but by His Heavenly Majesty dispelled it. For if we follow the letter, how can every male be holy, since it is undoubted that many have been most wicked? But He is holy whom in the figure of a future mystery the pious ordinances of the divine law prefigured, because He alone was to open the hidden womb of the holy virgin Church for the begetting of nations.
CYRIL Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! He offers victims, Who in each victim is honored equally with the Father. The Truth preserves the figures of the law. He who as God is the Maker of the law, as man has kept the law. Hence it follows, And that they should give a victim as it was ordered in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.
THEOPHYL Now this was the victim of the poor. For the Lord commanded in the law that they who were should offer a lamb for a son or a daughter as well as a turtle dove or pigeon; but they who were not able to offer a lamb should give two turtle doves or two young pigeons. Therefore the Lord, though he was rich, deigned to become poor, that by his poverty He might make us partakers of His riches.
CYRIL But let us see what these offerings mean. The turtle dove is the most vocal of birds, and the pigeon the gentlest. And such was the Savior made unto us; He was endowed with perfect meekness, and like the turtle dove entranced the world, filling His garden with His own melodies. There was killed then either a turtle dove or a pigeon, that by a figure He might be shown forth to us as about to suffer in the flesh for the life of the world.
THEOPHYL Or the pigeon denotes simplicity, the turtle dove chastity, for the pigeon is a lover of simplicity, and the turtle dove of chastity, so that if by chance she has lost her mate, she heeds not to find another. Rightly then are the pigeon and turtle dove offered as victims to the Lord, because the simple and chaste conversation of the faithful is a sacrifice of righteousness well pleasing to Him.
ATHAN. He ordered two things to be offered, because as man consists of both body and soul, the Lord requires a double return from us, chastity and meekness, not only of the body, but also of the soul. Otherwise, man will be a dissembler and hypocrite, wearing the face of innocence to mask his hidden malice.
THEOPHYL But while each bird, from its habit of wailing, represents the present sorrows of the saints, in this they differ, that the turtle is solitary, but the pigeon flies about in flocks, and hence the one points to the secret tears of confession, the other to the public assembling of the Church.
THEOPHYL Or the pigeon which flies in flocks sets forth the busy intercourse of active life. The turtle, which delights in solitariness, tells of the lofty heights of the contemplative life. But because each victim is equally accepted by the Creator, St. Luke has purposely omitted whether the turtles or young pigeons were offered for the Lord, that he might not prefer one mode of life before another, but teach that both ought to be followed.
The Third Reading
(from John Wesley's notes on the Gospel: Luke 2:22-24)
22. The days - The forty days prescribed, Leviticus 12:2 , Leviticus 12:4 .
24. A pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons - This offering sufficed for the poor. Leviticus 12:8 .
For the Second Nocturn
The Fourth Reading
(From the Gospel of St. Luke 2:25-35)
And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light te lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken to him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
The Fifth Reading
(From The Rt. Rev. J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels)
We have in these verses the history of one whose name is nowhere else mentioned in the New Testament, "a just and devout man" named Simeon. We know nothing of his life before or after the time when Christ was born. We are only told that he came by the Spirit into the temple, when the child Jesus was brought there by His mother, and that he "took him up in his arms and blessed God "in words which are now well-known all over the world.
We see, in the case of Simeon, how God has a believing people even in the worst of places, and in the darkest times. Religion was at a very low ebb in Israel when Christ was born. The faith of Abraham was spoiled by the doctrines of Pharisees and Sadducees. The fine gold had become deplorably dim. Yet even then we find in the midst of Jerusalem a man "just and devout"--a man "upon whom is the Holy Spirit."
It is a cheering thought that God never leaves Himself entirely without a witness. Small as His believing church may sometimes be, the gates of hell shall never completely prevail against it. The true church may be driven into the wilderness, and be a scattered little flock, but it never dies. There was a Lot in Sodom and an Obadiah in Ahab's household, a Daniel in Babylon and a Jeremiah in Zedekiah's court; and in the last days of the Jewish Church, when its iniquity was almost full, there were godly people, like Simeon, even in Jerusalem.
True Christians, in every age, should remember this and take comfort. It is a truth which they are apt to forget, and in consequence to give way to despondency. "I alone am left," said Elijah, "and they seek my life to take it away." But what said the answer of God to him, "Yet have I reserved seven thousand in Israel." (1 Kings 19:14,18.) Let us learn to be more hopeful. Let us believe that grace can live and flourish, even in the most unfavorable circumstances. There are more Simeons in the world than we suppose.
We see in the song of Simeon how completely a believer can be delivered from the fear of death. "Lord," says old Simeon, "now let you your servant depart in peace." He speaks like one for whom the grave has lost its terrors, and the world its charms. He desires to be released from the miseries of this pilgrim-state of existence, and to be allowed to go home. He is willing to be "absent from the body and present with the Lord." He speaks as one who knows where he is going when he departs this life, and cares not how soon he goes. The change with him will be a change for the better, and he desires that his change may come.
What is it that can enable a mortal man to use such language as this? What can deliver us from that "fear of death" to which so many are in bondage? What can take the sting of death away? There is but one answer to such questions. Nothing but strong faith can do it. Faith laying firm hold on an unseen Savior, faith resting on the promises of an unseen God--faith, and faith only, can enable a man to look death in the face, and say, "I depart in peace." It is not enough to be weary of pain, and sickness, and ready to submit to anything for the sake of a 'hopeful change'. It is not enough to feel indifferent to the world, when we have no more strength to mingle in its business, or enjoy its pleasures. We must have something more than this, if we desire to depart in real peace. We must have faith like old Simeon's, even that faith which is the gift of God. Without such faith we may die quietly, and there may seem "no bands in our death." (Psalms 73:4.) But, dying without such faith, we shall never find ourselves at home, when we wake up in another world.
We see, furthermore, in the song of Simeon, what clear views of Christ's work and office some Jewish believers attained, even before the Gospel was preached. We find this good old man speaking of Jesus as "the salvation which God had prepared"--as "a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel." Well would it have been for the letter-learned Scribes and Pharisees of Simeon's time, if they had sat at his feet, and listened to his word.
Christ was indeed "a light to enlighten the Gentiles." Without Him they were sunk in gross darkness and superstition. They knew not the way of life. They worshiped the works of their own hands. Their wisest philosophers were utterly ignorant in spiritual things. "Professing themselves to be wise they became fools." (Romans 1:22.) The Gospel of Christ was like sun-rise to Greece and Rome, and the whole heathen world. The light which it let in on men's minds on the subject of religion, was as great as the change from night to day.
Christ was indeed "the glory of Israel." The descent from Abraham--the covenants--the promises--the law of Moses--the divinely ordered Temple service--all these were mighty privileges. But all were as nothing compared to the mighty fact, that out of Israel was born the Savior of the world. This was to be the highest honor of the Jewish nation, that the mother of Christ was a Jewish woman, and that the blood of One "made of the seed of David, according to the flesh," was to make atonement for the sin of mankind. (Romans 1:3.)
The words of old Simeon, let us remember, will yet receive a fuller accomplishment. The "light" which he saw by faith, as he held the child Jesus in his arms, shall yet shine so brightly that all the nations of the Gentile world shall see it. The "glory" of that Jesus whom Israel crucified, shall one day be revealed so clearly to the scattered Jews, that they shall look on Him whom they pierced, and repent, and be converted. The day shall come when the veil shall be taken from the heart of Israel, and all shall "glory in the Lord." (Isaiah 45:25.) For that day let us wait, and watch, and pray. If Christ be the light and glory of our souls, that day cannot come too soon.
We see, lastly, in this passage, a striking account of the RESULTS which would follow when Jesus Christ and His Gospel came into the world. Every word of old Simeon on this subject deserves private meditation. The whole forms a prophecy which is being daily fulfilled.
Christ was to be "a sign spoken against." He was to be a mark for all the fiery darts of the wicked one. He was to be "despised and rejected of men." He and His people were to be a "city set upon a hill," assailed on every side, and hated by all sorts of enemies. And so it proved. Men who agreed in nothing else have agreed in hating Christ. From the very first, thousands have been persecutors and unbelievers. Christ was to be the occasion of "the fall of many in Israel." He was to be a stone of stumbling and rock of offence to many proud and self-righteous Jews, who would reject Him and perish in their sins. And so it proved. To multitudes among them Christ crucified was a stumbling-block, and His Gospel "a savor of death." (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 2:16.)
Christ was to be the occasion of "rising again to many in Israel." He was to prove the Savior of many who, at one time, rejected, blasphemed, and reviled Him, but afterwards repented and believed. And so it proved. When the thousands who crucified Him repented, and Saul who persecuted Him was converted, there was nothing less than a rising again from the dead.
Christ was to be the occasion of "the thoughts of many hearts being revealed." His Gospel was to bring to light the real characters of many people. The enmity to God of some--the inward weariness and hunger of others, would be discovered by the preaching of the cross. It would show what men really were. And so it proved. The Acts of the Apostles, in almost every chapter, bear testimony that in this, as in every other item of his prophecy, old Simeon spoke truth.
And now what do we think of Christ? This is the question that ought to occupy our minds. What thoughts does He call forth in our hearts? This is the inquiry which ought to receive our attention. Are we for Him, or are we against Him? Do we love Him, or do we neglect Him? Do we stumble at His doctrine, or do we find it life from the dead? Let us never rest until these questions are satisfactorily answered.
The Sixth Reading
(from John Wesley's notes on the Gospel: Luke 2:25-35)
25. The consolation of Israel - A common phrase for the Messiah, who was to be the everlasting consolation of the Israel of God. The Holy Ghost was upon him - That is, he was a prophet.
32. And the glory of thy people Israel - For after the Gentiles are enlightened, all Israel shall be saved.
33. Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken - For they did not thoroughly understand them.
34. Simeon blessed them - Joseph and Mary. This child is set for the fall and rising again of many - That is, he will be a savour of death to some, to unbelievers: a savour of life to others, to believers: and for a sign which shall be spoken against - A sign from God, yet rejected of men: but the time for declaring this at large was not yet come: that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed - The event will be, that by means of that contradiction, the inmost thoughts of many, whether good or bad, will be made manifest.
35. A sword shall pierce through thy own soul - So it did, when he suffered: particularly at his crucifixion.
For the Third Nocturn
The Seventh Reading
(From the Gospel of St. Luke 2:36-40)
And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord. And spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
The Eighth Reading
(from John Wesley's notes on the Gospel: Luke 2:36-40)
37. Fourscore and four years - These were the years of her life, not her widowhood only. Who departed not from the temple - Who attended there at all the stated hours of prayer. But served God with fastings and prayers - Even at that age. Night and day - That is, spending therein a considerable part of the night, as well as of the day.
38. To all that were waiting for redemption - The sceptre flow appeared to he departing from Judah, though it was not actually gone: Daniel's weeks were plainly near their period. And the revival of the spirit of prophecy, together with the memorable occurrences relating to the birth of John the Baptist, and of Jesus, could not but encourage and quicken the expectation of pious persons at this time. Let the example of these aged saints animate those, whose hoary heads, like theirs, are a crown of glory, being found in the way of righteousness. Let those venerable lips, so soon to be silent in the grave, be now employed in the praises of their Redeemer. Let them labour to leave those behind, to whom Christ will be as precious as he has been to them; and who will be waiting for God's salvation, when they are gone to enjoy it.
40. And the child grew - In bodily strength and stature; and waxed strong in spirit - The powers of his human mind daily improved; filled with wisdom - By the light of the indwelling Spirit, which gradually opened itself in his soul; and the grace of God was upon him - That is, the peculiar favour of God rested upon him, even as man.
The Ninth Reading
(From The Christian Year by the Bl. John Kebel)
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. St. Matthew v. 8.
Bless'd are the pure in heart,
For they shall see our God,
The secret of the Lord is theirs,
Their soul is Christ's abode.
Might mortal thought presume
To guess an angel's lay,
Such are the notes that echo through
The courts of Heaven to-day.
Such the triumphal hymns
On Sion's Prince that wait,
In high procession passing on
Towards His temple-gate.
Give ear, ye kings -- bow down,
Ye rulers of the earth --
This, this is He: your Priest by grace,
Your God and King by birth.
No pomp of earthly guards
Attends with sword and spear,
And all-defying, dauntless look,
Their monarch's way to clear;
Yet are there more with Him
Than all that are with you --
The armies of the highest Heaven,
All righteous, good, and true.
Spotless their robes and pure,
Dipp'd in the sea of light,
That hides the unapproached shrine
From men's and angels' sight.
His throne, thy bosom blest,
O mother undefil'd --
That throne, if aught beneath the skies,
Beseems the sinless child.
Lost in high thoughts, "whose son
The wondrous Babe might prove,"
Her guileless husband walks beside,
Bearing the hallow'd dove;
Meet emblem of His vow,
Who, on this happy day,
His dove-like soul -- best sacrifice --
Did on God's altar lay.
But who is he, by years
Bow'd, but erect in heart,
Whose prayers are struggling with his tears?
"Lord, let me now depart.
"Now hath Thy servant seen
Thy saving health, O Lord;
'Tis time that I depart in peace,
According to Thy word."
Yet swells this pomp: one more
Comes forth to bless her God;
Full fourscore years, meek widow, she
Her heaven-ward way hath troth.
She who to earthly joys
So long had given farewell,
Now sees, unlook'd for, Heaven on earth,
Christ in His Israel.
Wide open from that hour
The temple-gates are set,
And still the saints rejoicing there
The holy Child have met.
Now count His train to-day,
Auth who may meet Him, learn:
Him child-like sires, meek maidens find,
Where pride can nought discern.
Still to the lowly soul
He doth Himself impart,
And for His cradle and His throne
Chooseth the pure in heart.