Monday, February 2


Today is Candlemas. It is an ancient Christian holiday memorializing the day when Mary took the baby Jesus to the temple and met Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22-38).

According to Mosaic law a mother who had given birth to a man-child was to “remain in purification” for forty days. When that time was over the mother was to “bring to the temple a lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtle dove for a sin offering; if she was too poor to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; the priest then prayed for her and so she was cleansed. (Leviticus 12:2-8). Thus, forty days after the birth of Christ, Mary complied with this precept of the law, she redeemed her first-born from the temple (Numbers 18:15), and there was also blessed by the prayer of Simeon in the presence of Anna the prophetess.

Though he would have been circumcised on the eighth day--which is celebrated on the Church calendar as Epiphany--this fortieth day ceremony would have been the first solemn and public introduction of Christ into the Temple. Thus, early on, it was this day that was celebrated in the Church of Jerusalem. We find it attested in the first half of the fourth century by the pilgrim of Bordeaux, Egeria--though there is good evidence that it was a central part of the calendar of the Church as early as the third century and there are even some indications that it was celebrated as early as the second. At that time the feast in conjunction with St. Valentine's Day on February 14. It was solemnly kept by a procession to the basilica of the Resurrection and a public homily from the Luke narrative followed by communion.

In those days though, the feast had no proper name; it was simply called the fortieth day after Epiphany. By the fifth century however, the day had been moved back to February 2 to more appropriately mark the fortieth day after Christmas. It was celebrated by the lighting of candles to herald the lighting of the world by Christ’s appearance--thus, the name Candlemas.

Protesting Mel's Passion

Critics of Mel Gibson’s new film are planning a series of protests and lectures to coincide with its debut on Ash Wednesday, February 25. Gibson has insisted that The Passion of the Christ, does not malign Jews but the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, whose representatives saw a version the movie last week, said it does indeed contain destructive stereotypes about the Jewish role in Christ’s death--that in fact, the film does precisely what Jesus does in John 5: calling God’s covenant people to repent for their covenant unfaithfulness and unbelief. If The Passion of Christ actually accomplishes that feat, it is little wonder that unbelievers continue to be offended despite Mel's assurances; the offense of the cross is indeed quite off-putting; the offense of the cross drives us all to that dread place of dependence upon the mercy of Almighty God. And that is an affront to the innate sense of pride in all our graceless hearts.

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