Presentation of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord.  It is a feast that cannot be celebrated in isolation, but only in the light of the other earlier events in Christ’s life.  In his book, The Mill and the Cross, a commentary on Brueghel’s  Christ Carrying His Cross  Michael Gibson encourages the viewer to break up the narrative by “going over the painting from left to right as though it were a printed page.  And since this is the usual direction of reading in our part of the world, whatever stands to the left of the picture must already be drifting into the past.”

Rogier Van der Weyden St Columba Altarpiece c. 1455  Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (central), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)  Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Rogier Van der Weyden
St Columba Altarpiece
c. 1455
Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (central), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Rogier Van der Weyden does this in his Columba Altar piece, made for the Church of St. Columba in Cologne.  In the middle panel is the Adoration of the Magi and on the side panels Mary’s Annunciation and the Presentation of Jesus in the temple. Here there is brilliant coloration and a detail which brings a solemnity to all the figures presented.

Before examining the right panel of the Presentation notice the hidden symbols in the entire work such as the crucified figure above the new born, and the fall of man on the prie dieu in the Annunciation, and the “New Eve” motif.  Symbolically these narratives bring us to the right panel.

Detail St Columba Altarpiece c. 1455  Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (central), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)  Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Detail
St Columba Altarpiece
c. 1455
Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (central), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

The Right Panel

St Columba Altarpiece c. 1455  Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (central), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)  Alte Pinakothek, Munich

St Columba Altarpiece
c. 1455
Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (right), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Here is the Gospel of the day.

In a building which resembles a baptistery, Mary, Jospeh, Simeon and Anna gather along with three other participants.    The two on the far right are customary witnesses.  The elegant, worldly woman on the right with the contraposta stance in the left foreground is Mary’s servant who carries the doves.  I would like to point out that  the fact that she is dressed the same way as the Magdalene in the Braque Triptych.  The presence of the dog may be purely anecdotal or a symbol of loyalty.

WEYDEN, Rogier van der  Braque Family Triptych (right wing)  c. 1450  Oil on oak panel, 41 x 34 cm  Musée du Louvre, Paris

WEYDEN, Rogier van der
Braque Family Triptych (right wing)
c. 1450
Oil on oak panel, 41 x 34 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Simeon Prays:

Simeon’s song of praise.  Date circa 1700-1710  Medium oil on canvas  Dimensions Height: 94.5 cm (37.2 in). Width: 107.5 cm (42.3  Royal Picture Gallery  Mauritshuis

Aert de Gelder  Simeon’s Song of praise.
Date circa 1700-1710
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Height: 94.5 cm (37.2 in). Width: 107.5 cm (42.3
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis

For your meditation I have included the Nunc Dimmittis in G by Charles Villiers Stanford

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PE1qHKz08K4

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed  (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Here is Simeon’s prophecy fulfilled.

ISENBRANT, Adriaen  Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows  1518-35  Panel  O.L. Vrouwekerk, Bruges

ISENBRANT, Adriaen
Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows
1518-35
Panel
O.L. Vrouwekerk, Bruges

Now There Was One, Anna, A Prophetess

REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn  The Prophetess Anna (known as 'Rembrandt's Mother')  1631  Oil on panel, 60 x 48 cm  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
The Prophetess Anna (known as ‘Rembrandt’s Mother’)
1631
Oil on panel, 60 x 48 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Not dissimilar to Joseph in the nativity narratives,  Anna has gotten short shrift.   The Scriptures tell us something different and it is worth noting. In light of the New Evangelization Anna evangelizes immediately and to paraphrase Romans 12:11: she never lacks in zeal but keeps her spiritual fervor serving the Lord.

Other Names, Other Meanings

The Gospel records three  presentations in the Temple.  Today’s feast marks the first.  The second will be when, as a boy of twelve, he sits among the temple authorities and impresses them with his knowledge.  The third sees Jesus demanding that His Father’s House will be a” house of prayer and not a den of thieves.”

Drawing on  Gibson’s directive, there is more narrative connected to today’s feast.  In addition to the  the Presentation of the Child Jesus there are two other actions celebrated traditionally with today’s feast, namely the Purification  of the Virgin and Candlemas.

Purification of the Virgin Mary

According to Jewish customs, women were considered “unclean” after the birth of a child. The unclean period lasted 40 days after the birth of a son, and 60 days after the birth of a daughter. During this period, they were not allowed into the temple to worship. At the end of this time, the woman was  brought to the temple and “purified” in a ceremony.  After the birth  of Christ, Mary subjects herself to the Jewish law and is  purified.

One of the few images which distinctly separates the action of the Presentation with that of Mary’s Purification is found in one of the world’s most brilliant illuminated manuscripts: Les Tres Riche Heures du Jean Duc de Berry.

The Purification of the Virgin Les Tres Riches Heures Limbourg Brothers

The Purification of the Virgin
Les Tres Riches Heures
Limbourg Brothers c.1416  Musee Conde, Chantilly

Candlemas

In pre-Christian days, this day was known as the ‘Feast of Lights’ and celebrated the increasing strength of the sun as winter gave way to spring.

According to some sources, Christians began Candlemas in Jerusalem as early as the fourth century and the lighting of candles began in the fifth century. Other sources say that Candlemas was observed by blessing candles since the 11th century. An early writing dating back to around 380 CE mentioned that a feast of the Presentation occurred in a church in Jerusalem. It was observed on February 14. The feast was observed on February 2 in regions where Christ’s birth was celebrated on December 25.

Presentation of Christ at the Temple by Hans Holbein the Elder, 1500–01 (Kunsthalle, Hamburg)

Presentation of Christ at the Temple by Hans Holbein the Elder, 1500–01 (Kunsthalle, Hamburg)

It has been an ancient custom in the Church to bless candles on this feast—hence, the name. I mentioned that we are at the halfway point between the shortest day of the year, in December, and the Spring equinox in mid-March. The blessing of candles gives us encouragement for the remaining days of winter. It offers us the profound hope that we will be sustained by holy light—and uplifted and guided by the Greatest Light, the light that is Christ. Our candles symbolize the faith we declare that Christ is a “light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32).

The Holy Sepulcher @mrl

The Holy Sepulcher
@mrl

This Feast cries out to us: Christmas was just the beginning. There is more.

 

 

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About Monsignor Mark Richard Lane

I am a Catholic Priest of the Diocese of Richmond. I am also a presenter in the Theology and Symbolism in Art from the art of the catacombs to modern art. My current research is on the duplicity of art in 19th Century America.
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