Two things were required of Mary and Joseph, according to the Law of Moses: that they present Jesus in the Temple, dedicating him to God as their firstborn son, and that Mary be ceremonially purified 40 days after childbirth. This is the scene played out in this stained-glass window.
Glass is one of the fruits of the art of fire. It is a fusion of the earth’s rocks: a mixture of sand, soda and lime melted at high temperatures. Early in the 12th century, the German monk Theophilus discovered that if you heated glass to certain temperatures and added different oxides you could attain various colors. Stained-glass windows are never static.
In the course of the day, they are animated by changing light. It is the most ethereal of art forms, allowing matter to be transformed into light.
At the Presentation, Simeon prayed the Nunc Dimittis. Each night the Church prays compline and repeats his words, proclaiming Christ “the light of revelation for the Gentiles.”
For this reason the first Christians carried lighted candles or lamps in procession on this feast, symbolizing the mystical presence of Jesus, the “true light.” And the solemn procession itself symbolized the journey of Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem in fulfillment of the Law.
We continue this today with the blessing and procession with candles at the start of the liturgy on the feast of the Presentation. But since this feast most often falls on a weekday, most of the faithful do not get to experience it.
Certain elements taken from the Gospel account for the Presentation of the Lord (Lk 2:22-38), such as the obedience of Joseph and Mary to the Law of the Lord, the poverty of the holy spouses and the virginity of Our Lady. Therefore, Feb. 2 is marked as a special feast for those who serve in various forms of consecrated life.
In a homily for this feast, Pope Francis said, “From today’s feast we learn gratitude for the encounter with Jesus and for the gift of the vocation to consecrated life. ... How lovely it is when we see the happy faces of consecrated persons, perhaps already advanced in age, as Simeon and Anna, happy and full of gratitude for their vocation ... gratitude for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who always animates the Church through different charisms.”
Perhaps then this feast would be an appropriate time to acknowledge in a special way those in consecrated life ministering among us.
FATHER VINCENT DE PAUL CROSBY, OSB, is a monk, priest and artist at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. To see his work, visit fabricart.net.