Meditation on the feast of the Purification
By Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD | 1 February 2023
O Lord, I come to You and beg You, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to purify my soul.
Today’s feast, which marks the end of the Christmas season, is a feast both of Jesus and of Mary: of Jesus, because He is presented by His Mother in the Temple forty days after His birth, according to the requirements of the law; of Mary, because she submits herself to the rite of purification.
The liturgy celebrates, primarily, the entrance for the first time of the Infant Jesus into the Temple: “Behold the Lord, the Ruler, cometh into His holy Temple: rejoice and be glad, O Sion, and hasten to meet your God” (Roman Breviary). Let us, too, go to meet Him, emulating the holy sentiments of the old Simeon who “came by the Spirit into the Temple” (Lk 2:22–32), and filled with joy, received the Divine Child into his arms.
In order to celebrate this event more fittingly, the Church today blesses candles and gives them to us. With burning tapers, we enter the Temple in procession. The lighted candle is a symbol of the Christian life, of the faith and grace which should shine in our soul. It is also the image of Christ, the light of the world, “a light to the revelation of the Gentiles,” according to Simeon’s canticle. The lighted candle reminds us that we must always bear Christ in us, the source of our life, the author of faith and grace. By His grace, Jesus Himself disposes us to go to meet Him with livelier faith and greater love. May our meeting with Him today be particularly intimate and sanctifying!
Jesus is taken to the Temple to be offered to the Father, although, being God, He was not subject to the prescriptions of the Jewish law as were the other firstborn of the Hebrews. He is the Victim who will be immolated for the salvation of the world. His presentation in the Temple is, so to speak, the offertory of His life; the sacrifice will be consummated later, on Calvary. Let us offer ourselves with Jesus.
Jesus was presented in the Temple by His Mother. Let us therefore contemplate Mary in her office of Co-Redemptrix. Mary knew that Jesus was the Saviour of the world, and through the veil of prophecy she sensed that His mission would be accomplished in a mystery of sorrow in which she would participate, in her role as Mother. Simeon’s prophecy: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce,” confirmed her intuition. Deep in her heart, Mary at that moment must have repeated her fiat: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word” (Lk 1:38). At the same time that she offered her Son, she offered herself, being always closely united to His destiny.
But, before entering the Temple to present Jesus, Mary wanted to submit to the law of legal purification. Although she knew she was a virgin, she put herself on the level of all the other mothers, and standing with them, humbly awaited her turn, carrying “a pair of turtle-doves”, the offering of the poor. We see Jesus and Mary submitting themselves to laws by which they are not bound: Jesus does not need to be redeemed, nor Mary to be purified. These are lessons in humility and respect for the law of God.
There may be some laws by which we are bound and from which our pride by false pretexts seeks to exempt us. Such dispensations are abuses sought in the name of rights which do not really exist. Whereas Mary had no need to be purified, let us humble ourselves and acknowledge our extreme need of interior purification.
“Jesus, You went to the Temple to offer Yourself. Who offered You? The Virgin Mary, who has never had, and never will have, an equal. You were offered by Mary who, through the mouth of Wisdom, was called by Your Father the “all-beautiful, all-fair”. To whom were You offered? To God, the infinite Being, sublime in His creation, fruitful in His heritage, unfathomable in His designs, gracious and sweet in His love. What did she offer? She offered You, the eternal Word, substance of the divine essence, Son of the Most High, the Lawgiver of the universe, You, who have been called by so many great and beautiful names: O Key of David, O King of nations, O Emmanuel!
“What do You teach me, O Lord, offering Yourself thus in the Temple? You show me respect for the law by Your willingness to observe it. You teach me adoration, for You offered Yourself to the Father, not as His equal, which You really were, but as man. Here You have given me a model of the respect which I owe to Your law, not only to the Ten Commandments, but also to my Holy Rule and Constitutions. This law is all sweetness and delight for me, but I make it bitter when I do not renounce myself, for then, instead of my bearing it sweetly, the law is obliged to bear me”St Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi
O Jesus, through the hands of Mary, I wish to offer myself today with You to the eternal Father. But You are a pure, holy, and immaculate Host, while I am defiled with misery, and sin. O Mary, my Mother, you were willing to be purified, although you were free from the slightest shadow of imperfection; purify, I beseech you, my poor soul, so that it may be less unworthy to be offered to the Father along with Jesus, who is your Son as well as His. O Virgin most pure, lead me along the way of a serious, and thorough purification; accompany me yourself, so that my weakness will not make me faint because of the roughness of the road.