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Monday, 1 February 2010

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (2nd February) celebrates the events in the Gospel of St Luke when Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth, to fulfill the requirements of the law of Moses.

It is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church. Egeria, a Spanish nun on pilgrimage to Jerusalem around 381, describes the feast in her remarkable journal:
"On that day there is a procession into the Anastasis [the site of the Resurrection], and all assemble there for the liturgy; and everything is performed in the prescribed manner with the greatest solemnity, just as on Easter Sunday. All the priests give sermons, and the bishop, too; and all preach on the Gospel text describing how on the fortieth day Joseph and Mary took the Lord to the temple, and how Simeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, saw Him, and what words they spoke on seeing the Lord, and of the offering which his parents brought. Afterwards, when all the ceremonies have been performed in the prescribed manner, the Eucharist is then celebrated and the dismissal given".
The feast is rich in theological meaning. The obvious theme of light has been central, coming from the Song of Simeon, Nunc Dimittis “a light to lighten the Gentiles”. Although we now tend to think that the Presentation looks backwards concluding the 40 day period after the Nativity, as Egeria hinted in her diary, it also looks forward to the Easter mystery, when our "illumination" or rebirth in baptism is celebrated.

An Orthodox hymn for the feast captures this double theme:

Hail Virgin Theotókos full of Grace, for Christ our God, the Sun of Righteousness, has dawned from you, granting light to those in darkness. And you, O Righteous Elder, rejoice, taking in Your arms, the Deliverance of our souls, who grants us Resurrection.


  1. Your Grace +David,,

    The "Anglican Breviary" - though not an official entity in the Anglican Communion - captures the theme very beautifully too:

    Hymn: 'O Dei Sapientia.'

    O Wisdom of the God of grace,
    Who orderest all things mightily,
    So sweetly lifting up our race
    To more than former dignity;

    Our mortal flesh thou didst assume,
    And death, our due of sin, endure,
    E'en though thy Mother's virgin womb
    A sinless manhood made secure.

    Her soul in joy conceived thee
    Before her womb could thee possess,
    Whence thou dist rise, earth's Light to be,
    The Gentile's Star of blessedness.

    What grace and joy, O Christ, are thine,
    Which same thy Mother sanctified;
    In joyousness and grace divine,
    Stedfast in thee may we abide.

    On this glad Presentation Day,
    To thee, the Virgin's Son,
    All glory, laud and thanks we pay,
    With thy blest Sire and Spirit, One.

    This hymn is from Lauds for the Presentation and is derived from a cognate Use of the Secular Breviary and does not appear in the (traditional) Roman Breviary.

    Another theme which explains why Jesus is born as 'the Crucified One' (the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world) - commonly associated with the Eastern Church - is found in the Anglican Breviary's first Antiphon (Nocturn I) for the present Feast:

    "O wondrous interchange! the Creator of mankind, taking upon him a living body, vouchsafed to be born of a Virgin, * and by his Humanity, which was begotten in no earthly wise, hath made us partakers of his Divinity."

    The Anglican Breviary supports and illustrates precisely what you have affirmed above. It also shows the beauty of Anglican creativity in what, perhaps, could be said to be 'difficult times.'

    Fr. Gregory +

  2. Dear Fr Gregory, thank you for this little known liturgical treasure.