Encounter of Our Lord
On this Feast day, we see Jesus forty days old, carried into the temple in Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph, to be recognized as God’s Messiah by the aged Simeon and Anna. In obedience to the Law of Moses, the Lord Jesus, the first-born, was presented in the Temple by his Blessed Mother and his foster father. Mary and Joseph respected the Mosaic Law by offering the sacrifice prescribed for the poor: a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
In Jerusalem at that time there lived two venerable elderly people – Simeon and Anna. Their lives were dedicated to prayer and fasting and so their strong religious spirit rendered them able to recognize the Messiah. Simeon, who was just and devout, had been visited by an angel of the Lord who foretold him that he would not see death before seeing the Messiah born of the Virgin. Led by the Holy Spirit into the temple on the day that the holy family brought the Child Jesus to fulfill the law, Simeon took the Child into his arms and blessed God by saying: “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people, a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
In the figure of the venerable Simeon, Jesus’ presentation in the temple, also reminds us that prayer and contemplation are not just a waste of time or an obstacle to charity. On the contrary, time could not be better spent than in prayer as true Christian charity is a consequence of a solid interior life. Only those who pray and offer penance, like Simeon and Anna, are open to the breath of the Spirit. They know how to recognize the Lord in the circumstances in which He manifests Himself because they possess an ample interior vision, and they have learned how to love with the heart of the One whose very name is Charity.
This is another ‘epiphany’ celebration insofar as the Christ Child is revealed as the Messiah through the canticle and words of Simeon and the testimony of Anna the prophetess who was also in the temple that day.
This is also a second Annunciation to Mary. Simeon’s prophecy of Mary’s sufferings tells her of the actual historical situation in which the Son is to accomplish his mission: namely, in misunderstanding and sorrow. The archangel’s announcement was a fount of incredible joy because it pertained to Jesus’ messianic royalty and the supernatural character of His virginal conception.
The Feast Day of the Encounter is the meeting of the Old and New Covenants. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and gives to us the New Covenant through the Eucharist. The announcement of the elder in the temple spoke of the Lord’s work of redemption that He would complete associating Himself through suffering to His Mother. Therefore, there is a strong Marian dimension to this feast; it is also referred to as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This refers to the other aspect of the presentation that consists of the ritual purification of Jewish women after they had given birth. In Mary’s case this purification was not necessary, but it indicates the renewal of her total offering of herself to God for the accomplishment of His Divine Plan.
This feast concludes the celebration of the Nativity and with the offerings of the Virgin Mother and the prophecy of Simeon, the events now point toward Easter. Christ is the light of the nations, hence the tradition of the blessing of candles.
At the Liturgy, we read in Luke 2:22-40 about this meeting. Joseph and Mary marveled to hear what Simeon said. Mary treasured this in her heart. Simeon prophesied to Mary:
“This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword.” Mary was early made aware of the suffering which would come through being the mother of the Redeemer of the world. “The greater the love, the greater the suffering.”
Anna, the prophetess, was about 84 years old. She served God in fasting and prayer, night and day, in the temple. When she saw the Child, she gave thanks to God, and spoke about Jesus to those others of the faithful remnant who lived in Jerusalem.
The Epistle is taken from Hebrews 7-17. The author writes about the greater one blessing the lesser one. Although we think that Simeon, who is older, is blessing the Child Jesus, it is actually Jesus, who is God before all ages, who blesses Simeon.
TROPAR (Tone 1)
Hail, Mother of God, Virgin full of grace. * From you has shown forth the Sun of Justice, Christ our God, * shining upon those who are in darkness. *Rejoice also, you just Elder Simeon, *for you received in your arms the Redeemer of our souls * who has given us Resurrection.
KONDAK (tone 1)
O Christ our God, through Your birth You sanctified the Virgin’s womb, * and blessed, as it was proper, the hands of Simeon. *Today, You have come to bring us deliverance. * Give peace to nations at war and strengthen our civil authorities, * for You alone love us all.
On this Feast Day, each one of us ought to be a Temple of God to which Mary brings Jesus. And each should, like Simeon, take the Child in our arms and say to the Father: My eyes have seen Your salvation. And having seen and touched the Saviour, we are released from the hold that sin has on us and in peace we can leave the realm of evil.
Adapted with appreciation from: