The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas
1 John 2:3-11
Victim, Priest, and Temple
The very first sentence of today’s holy gospel evokes a profound sense of the sacred. “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). Christ comes to the Temple as both victim and priest 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).
The Four Righteous Elders
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.”
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, the true Saviour 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 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 very 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 Holy Spirit
What is most striking about today’s holy gospel is the pervasive presence of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. In three verses there are no less than three 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).
Come Into the Temple
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 Jesus (Jn 6:44), and 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 Christ in Word and Sacrament, having received the mysteries of His Body and Blood, you will depart in peace, sent on your way by the liturgical dismissal, “Go forth, the Mass is ended.”
Hearts on High
In every celebration of Holy Mass, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we actualize the mystery of the Church, for 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 Church, the same Holy Spirit who overshadowed the Virgin of Nazareth with the power of the Most High (Lk 1:35) overshadows us and the gifts of bread and 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.”