The feast of the Presentation of Our Lord always falls 40 days after Christmas when Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem as told by the Gospel of St. Luke. Simeon and Anna are overjoyed to greet the Messiah, having waited their whole life for this moment. The Song of Simeon, which we say or sing every night at Evening Prayer, is Simeon's response to having greeted the Christ Child.
At the High Mass on Thursday evening, the choir will sing a setting of Simeon's Song, the Nunc dimittis, as composed by Scott Villard, our bass section leader in the choir. After the candles have been blessed, this canticle is sung as the candles are distributed to the people. Once everyone has their candles, the entire congregation processes throughout the church. It is as if we too are on pilgrimage to meet the Christ entering his temple. The alternate name for this feast, Candlemas, is the result of the blessing of candles at the beginning of the mass. In many places where it is still dark early in the evening, this feast continues the celebration of the Epiphany light that is coming into the world.
This week you will notice that our weekly Wednesday Evensong is also dedicated to this feast. The Presentation of Our Lord is one of the feasts in our prayer book that has two services of Evening Prayer - one on the eve and one on the day. This is in addition to the readings appointed for Morning Prayer, as well as the mass. Because the Presentation falls on a Thursday this year, we have the chance to celebrate the Eve of the Presentation at our normally scheduled Evensong, as well as enjoying a high mass on the actual day. If you are able, join us for the First Evensong of Candlemas on February 1, and then join us again on February 2 for the High Mass. This day is a high ranking feast. If February 2 falls on a Sunday, this feast replaces the Sunday celebration. Only a few feast days in the prayer book calendar allow for this provision. In the middle of a busy week, I know that this seems like a lot to do. Nevertheless, it is an opportunity that we could not ignore.
The offering at these services has been designated for the Life Foundation. Every year St. Mark's gives money to the Life Foundation for their work with those affected by HIV/AIDS. Please give generously. If you cannot come to the Evensong or the High Mass, you can always bring your donation on Sunday, or you can mail it to the church. Please notate "Life Foundation" on the memo line of your check.
On a personal note, this feast has always been special to me. When I was instituted as your rector several years ago, we used the Candlemas readings at the mass. Would you believe that we are beginning our ninth year together? And even prior to my coming to St. Mark's, when I was ordained a priest, I began a pre-ordination retreat on Candlemas, being ordained on February 5, the feast of Paul Miki and the Martyrs of Japan.
Speaking of February 5, this coming Sunday we will have the St. Blase Blessing of Throats after all three masses using two blessed candles from the Candlemas mass. The Feast of St. Blase is on February 3. The tradition maintains that Blase, also spelled Blaise or Blasius, was an Armenian bishop who saved a child from choking, hence the blessing of throats over time. When you consider the illnesses that often spread among people at this time of the year, a blessing of throats can be quite helpful, not to mention that all humans need their speech blessed due to the vices of gossip and other forms of sinful speech. After the mass come to the BVM Chapel, and kneel if you are able. The priest will then place two candles around your throat, invoking the Blessing of St. Blase.
Finally, with everything going on in our world today, we need to step up our vigilance, honoring that which is good and full of light. More and more I am convinced that the worship we offer is a form of resistance and strength within a world that honors competition, materialism, and consumption. We need the worship of the church more than ever before. Whether it is the quiet services of Morning Prayer throughout the week, or the glorious high masses of Sundays and feast days, such worship forms us to be the people that God desires us to be. Come and be formed by your worship of God, and come and bear witness to the healing that only the Light of Christ can bring.