According to ancient Jewish law, a woman who gave birth to a boy was unable to touch anything sacred or enter the Temple area until forty days after the birth of her son. The period of purification was observed by Mary, the Mother of God. The law prescribed that after the forty days the mother should offer a year-old lamb as a sin offering, or if she were poor, two turtledoves or two young pigeons. According to the Gospel, this ritual was followed by Joseph and Mary, who presented their son for purification at the Temple in Jerusalem.
While there, Jesus’ parents met a man named Simeon whom the Gospel describes as “righteous and devout” and as someone who was awaiting the time when salvation would come to God’s people in Israel. When Simeon saw the infant Jesus he took him into his arms and said:
“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 flory for your people Israel” (Lk 2:29-32).
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is traditionally celebrated on February 2, forty days after Christmas. In many places the day marks the end of the Christmas season. Christmas decorations are taken down and Christmas trees and plants are burned and mixed with the remaining ashes of the Yule log. These ashes are then spread over gardens and fields in the hope of a bountiful spring crop.
From Simeon’s words that Jesus would not only be the source of salvation for the Jews, but a “light of revelation to the Gentiles,” the day also is called Candlemas. Sometimes blessed candles are handed out to celebrate the feast. In Latin America, statues of the baby Jesus are decorated in fine infant clothing. Cakes are shared with the figure of Jesus outlined in sugar.
What is a lesson to be shared around this feast? First, we can remind students that Jesus’ parents were pious Jews who followed religions laws. Second, they were poor, as they were unable to afford a year-old lamb for sacrifice. Also, we can remind students that many people waited in expectation for Jesus and that his birth was an open invitation to all people to share in the joy of salvation.
Research and present other names, traditions, and folklore associated with the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, both locally and all over the world.
Read and share the laws from the Hebrew Scripture on the period of purification (Lv 12:2-8) and the presentation of a newborn (Ex 13:1-2).
Read Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus’ destiny (Lk 2:34-35). Discuss how the prophecy would eventually be fulfilled.
Give each student a candle. Process to a church or chapel and offer a prayer to the infant Jesus for all children, especially the poor.
1. What is your earliest memory of being brought to church and attending Mass?
2. What is the most amazing thing someone (teacher, neighbor, relative) ever said to your parents about you?
3. What is something you hope to accomplish in your life that would bring you fulfillment?