Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Presentation or Purification?

2nd February sees the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Ordinary Form) and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Extraordinary Form). The name of Candlemass also applies, because of the blessing and procession of candles associated with the celebration of this feast.

So far as I can tell, the Liturgical texts, at least for the celebration of Mass and the procession of candles, are similar in both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms. The Old Testament reading is from Malachi 3:1-4 and the Gospel is the account of the Presentation. I think the Collect is the same in both forms, too. This suggests a greater affinity to the title of the Feast in the Ordinary Form, which indicates it as being a Feast of the Lord rather than a Feast of the Virgin Mary.

However, in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary there is a Mass entitled "The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of the Lord". According to the introduction to this Mass given in the Sacramentary for this Collection:
In this mystery of  salvation, Our Lady:
- in accordance with the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 12:1-8) submitted to the ritual of purification after childbirth, although as the "purest of virgins" from her "chaste womb" she had "brought forth in purity the Son of the Eternal Father" (Entrance Antiphon);
-faithfully carried out the law of the firstborn (see Exodus 13:1-2), redeeming with the offering of the poor (see Luke 2:24; Prayer over the offerings) her Son, "the author of the New Law" (Collect), "the Redeemer of us all" (Prayer over the offerings), "the glory of" the "people Israel and the light of all nations" (Preface; see Luke 2:32), the "Lord, the Saviour of the world" (Communion Antiphon);
- as "the handmaid of (God's) plan of salvation" (Preface) saw in her Son "the spotless Lamb, to be sacrificed on the altar of the Cross for our salvation (Preface) and offered him to the Father.
The texts of the Mass also recognise the Virgin Mary as the "virgin daughter of Zion", and the exemplar of the faith and life of the Church, described in the Collect as the "chaste Bride of Christ". The Collection does not give any indication of the origin of the Liturgical texts used.

However, what the texts and introduction for the Mass in the Collection drew to my attention was that, whichever title is used for the Feast celebrated on 2nd February, and consequently whether it is seen as being primarily a Feast of the Lord or a Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the content of what is being celebrated is essentially the same. In particular, in adopting the title "The Presentation of the Lord" the Liturgy of the Ordinary Form has not turned aside from the elements of the celebration which would be expressed by the title "The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary".

Some quick thoughts that follow:

1. Is there an opportunity for "mutual enrichment", or of assimilation of this celebration in the two forms of the Roman Rite?
2. Theologically, what does this celebration offer in the discussion of the relation of Christian faith to Judaism?
3. Liturgically, what does this celebration teach about the origins of Christian Liturgy in the practices of the Jewish religion?

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