Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine

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The Fifth Day in the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord

1 John 2:3-11
Luke 2:22-35

The Child Jesus, Priest and Victim

The very first sentence of today’s Holy Gospel evokes the mystery of sacrifice. “When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord” (Lk 2:22). The verb to present is part of the ritual vocabulary of the Temple. It denotes a liturgical action, a priestly function. Concerning the Jewish priest, we read in the book of Deuteronomy that “the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes, to present himself and minister before the Lord” (Dt 18:5). The same verb is used to designate the offering, the presentation of the victim made over to God. Saint Paul, for example, writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). The Child Jesus comes to the Temple as both Priest and Victim and, by His coming, He fulfills that word of the prophet Malachi so gloriously interpreted by Handel in The Messiah: “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple” (Mal 3:1).

Saint Simeon

Simeon, coming upon the scene, reveals the hidden meaning of this presentation just as, in every sacrament and liturgical rite, the Word discloses the meaning of the sacred action. Simeon is one of four elders who, in the bright iconography of Saint Luke’s infancy narrative, surround the Infant Christ. Elizabeth, Zachary, Simeon, and Anna — all four, righteous and devout — are the venerable and last representatives of the old covenant. In their person, as Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in his well-known Eucharistic hymn, “the former ancient rites give way to the new.”

The Child Consoler

Saint Luke describes Simeon as “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). Consolation is the meaning of the name of Noah, the first saviour of the human race at the time of the flood. At the birth of Noah, Lamech, his father, prophesied, saying, “This one shall console us in our sorrows and in the toil of our hands” (Gen 5:29). Noah, the consoler and saviour, is a type, a figure of Christ. The true Consoler is God Himself, even as He spoke through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah: “I, I am He that comforts you” (Is 51:12). The little Child, carried to the temple in His mother’s arms, fulfills all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament. The little Child Jesus is God come in the flesh to console us “in our sorrows and in the toil of our hands” (Gen 5:29). The Infant Christ is the long-awaited Paraclete, the very word used in the Greek text of today’s Gospel. At the hour of His Pasch, He will promise the gift of another Paraclete. “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:16).

The Other Paraclete

What is most striking about today’s Gospel is the pervasive presence of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. In three verses there are as many allusions to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. Saint Luke, of course, is exquisitely sensitive to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Already, in his Gospel, we have seen Elizabeth “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 1:41), Zachary, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 1:67), and of course, the Virgin Mary, covered by the Holy Spirit and “overshadowed by the power of the Most High” (Lk 1:35).

The Holy Spirit rests upon Simeon, even as the Spirit rested upon the seventy elders of Israel, in the book of Numbers, causing them to prophesy (Num 11:24-25). The Holy Spirit reveals to Simeon the imminent arrival in the Temple of the Christ of the Lord, that is of the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed (Lk 2:26). The Holy Spirit moves Simeon to go to Temple, there to seek and find the Christ. Finally, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Simeon takes the Infant Christ into his arms, and intones his mysterious prophecy. Christ is “the salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of God’s people, Israel” (Lk 2:30-32).

You Will Find the Child Jesus

If today we have come to the temple, the living temple of the Body of Christ, it is by the grace of the Holy Spirit. “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him,” says Our Lord (Jn 6:44). The Father draws us to the Son by the secret operations of the Holy Spirit. Origen says, “And you, if you wish to hold Jesus in your arms, seek to have the Holy Spirit for your guide, and come into the Temple. . . . If you come into the Temple, moved by the Holy Spirit, you will find the Child Jesus, and you will say, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace’” (Homily 15 on Luke). Having found the Child Jesus in Word and Sacrament, having received the Mysteries of His Body and Blood, you too will depart in peace.

Sursum Corda

In every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the mystery of the Church is brought forth anew. The Holy Spirit, — the same Holy Spirit who formed the Body of Christ in the womb of the Virgin — constitutes the Body of Christ, out of the many making one (cf. 1 Cor 12:27). In response to the invocation of the priest, the same Holy Spirit who overshadowed the Virgin of Nazareth with the power of the Most High (Lk 1:35) overshadows us, and the oblations of bread and of wine. Bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and we, many though we are, become one Body, one spirit in Christ. The same Holy Spirit who opened the mouths of Elizabeth, Zachary, Simeon, and Anna will open our mouths today in the Great Thanksgiving. It is by the grace of the Holy Spirit that once again, today, the mighty cry will be raised here, and “from the rising of the sun to its setting” (Mal 1:11): “Hearts on high! We hold them towards the Lord.”


To whom it may concern,

I am a candidate that is applying for admission to a religious society. I have been asked if I would mind being a reader at a Saturday Mass at the society's church. It is a Novus Ordo Mass celebrated in English. Are there any guidelines that I should be aware of? I have also read in a post that to cantillate would be the ideal. Are there any resources on the web or somewheres else I could find them? Cost could be an issue. Any recordings? Previously I was a small part of a choir in a church where the Tridentine Mass was offered. If I am to do this I would like to do the best that lie in my abilities. Any help would be appreciated. Even if I have to just read "soberly" until I learn I would like to. Thank you in advance.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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