An Offering of Turtledoves
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
The Feast of Our Lord’s Presentation in the Temple has been celebrated in Jerusalem since the 4th-century, in Rome by the 5th-century, and in the Eastern Churches even longer.
In the Gospel we behold the old man in the Temple, Simeon, holding the infant Lord in his arms. As he embraces the Christ Child in his arms, the wise man chants a canticle of thanksgiving to God the Father; it is the same canticle, Nunc dimittis, that is chanted at the blessing of the candles in the Sacred Liturgy. In his canticle, Simeon proclaims that Jesus is
“a light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel.”
This theme of Simeon’s song was later echoed by Saint John:
“In him was light, and that light was the life of men . . . that was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world . . . and the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”
Made one with the Lord through baptism, we are to become like candles, each aflame with the light of Christ. So, as Jesus said:
“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.”
The festival of Jesus' Presentation in the Temple also recalls the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thus, today’s feast is a feast of both Our Lord and of Our Lady—a feast replete with paradoxes:
– The Redeemer of the mankind is presented in the Temple, whose sacred rite is designed to redeem Him. Jesus is redeemed as the first-born under the Law, but He has come to redeem us from the burden of the Law.
– The Mother who hands Jesus over to Simeon is presumed to be defiled and ritually unclean, but she is the Immaculate Mother of God, the stainless maiden who is full of grace.
– The two turtledoves are sacrificed to redeem the woman from impurity, but she who is the New Eve was redeemed by the New Adam at the moment of her Immaculate Conception.
– The prophet Simeon carries the Christ Child in the Temple, but the Christ Child carries the Temple’s prophecy to fulfillment.
– The aged man has awaited the consolation of Israel, but now he offers a disconsoling revelation of a sword that pierces a Mother’s heart.
–In the book of Numbers is written the commandment that the father must redeem the firstborn son, that is, buy him back from God, by paying a kohen (a member of the Temple priesthood) five silver shekels. There is an irony in this: Joseph, the foster father, stands proxy, buying back Jesus from His own Father.
– Our Lord, who tonight is redeemed from the Temple priest for five pieces of silver will later be sold to the Temple authorities for thirty, foreshadowing His Sacred Passion. – The child is destined to be a light to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel, but Christ Child will be a sign to be opposed His people, Israel.
Among these many paradoxes, I bid you to consider the turtledoves, because they stand in between life and death and begin a sequence of sacrifices. Recall it was a dove that first announced that redemption when Noah could step out of the ark onto dry land. For this reason, in the lover recalls the dove in the Old Testament book of love poetry, the Song of Songs:
“For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land.”
But on the day of Christ's Presentation in the Temple, the song of the doves is silenced as two turtledoves are sacrificed, one as a holocaust for the Son of God, and the other a sin-offering for the sinless and immaculate Virgin. The turtledoves are offered for Mary who offers herself for Jesus, who offers His own life for us upon the Cross. Jesus repeats the pattern of the doves. Just as they stood-in as a sacrifice in the Temple, so Christ stands-in as the sacrifice for us.
We, too, share in the same work of sacrifice, as St. Paul teaches,
“I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
In the Mystical Body of Christ, it is our lifelong task and joy to offer ourselves unto Him, who offers Himself for us, by making sacrifices for love of God and neighbor. Like the turtledoves we are called to make sacrifices for God. God redeems our poor efforts at redemption. Whatever good deeds we offer, they are usually diluted by our pride, but Christ perfects our imperfect offerings by His all-perfect love.
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we offer simple gifts of bread and wine, but He transforms it in an act of perfect sacrificial love to give us back His own Body and Blood, even His soul and divinity. We bring our fragmentary lives with its loose ends, broken promises, and false starts, but nothing is impossible for God, as He weaves an eternal tapestry of it all. Amen.