February 2 is traditionally celebrated as the “Presentation of Jesus” in the Temple, the 4th Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. It is the 40th day from Christmas and the official close of the Christmas Season. The account is found in Luke 2: 22-38. According to Catholic Stewardship Consultants, “Because of the words of the canticle of Simeon — “a light to the revelation of the Gentiles” — by the 11th century, the custom had developed in the West of blessing candles on the Feast of the Presentation. The candles were then lit, and a procession took place through the darkened church while the Canticle of Simeon was sung. Because of this, the feast also became known as Candlemas. While the procession and blessing of the candles is not often performed in the United States today, Candlemas is still an important feast in many European countries.
Known originally as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a relatively ancient celebration. We know that the Church at Jerusalem was observing the feast as early as the first half of the fourth century, and likely earlier. According to Jewish law, the firstborn male child belonged to God, and the parents had to “buy him back” on the 40th day after his birth, by offering a sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24) in the temple — thus the “presentation” of the child. On that same day, the mother would be ritually purified — thus the “purification.”
When Christ was presented in the temple, “there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” When St. Mary and St. Joseph brought Christ to the temple, Simeon embraced the child and prayed the Canticle of Simeon: “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” A Prophet, named Anna, is also part of this Gospel tradition and speaks of the child, Jesus, and the redemption of Jerusalem. The figures of Simeon and Anna seem to represent the Old Testament messianic hope and pass it on to Mary and Jesus.
Simeon also speaks of a sword piercing Mary’s very being ( psuche ). It seems that the image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with her heart pierced by a dagger or sword, echoes the Lukan interpretation found in 2:35. Luke draws a powerful parallel between soul and heart. The soul is immaterial, the heart is not. A sword can pierce the heart, only metaphorically can it pierce the soul. However, the meanings of the two words overlap as both connote the inner self and the seat of affections and will. In his sophisticated Greek, Luke draws a parallel between “soul” and “heart”, and throughout the centuries the connotation of “heart” became the more popular.
In the Jerome Biblical Commentary, C. Stuhlmueller points to the context of Mary being extolled in the Gospel. Therefore, he offers the comment; “The sword could be indicative of the sorrow experienced by a humble person before the demands of an exalted vocation, by a delicately thoughtful person before the profound mystery of salvation or by a sympathetic person before the revenge inflicted on the innocent”. J. Fitzmyer, renowned Catholic scholar, comments on the enigmatic nature of the verse. The sword is an intense and powerful image and places the “stress on Mary’s individual lot”. He terms this the “sword of discrimination”, discrimination between falling and rising, and places it in a rich historical and Old Testament background. The phrase echoes the LXX Ezekiel 14:17 also the Sibylline Oracle 3.316. The Lukan context is the idea that Jesus will cause the “rise and fall” of many in Israel and Mary, as part of Israel, will be part of the events. Luke seems to suggest that Mary will endure the pain of realizing that Jesus’ mission and obedience to the Word of God will supersede familial loyalties; a theme that will be picked up in 8:21 and 11:27-28.2
Therefore, Luke seems to be suggesting that Mary, as a disciple, will extend the ministry and act as a buffer or mediator between Jesus and those resistant to his words. Luke is using a concrete image to depict Mary as part of the ministry of Jesus. Luke is showing that Mary is a faithful Jewish girl, but her role goes beyond only the maternal and will be apostolic.