Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, to use its official modern title, commonly known as Candlemas. This is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, and indeed one of its most important. Traditionally, the date was seen as the end of Christmas, falling 40 days after Christmas Day. The fortieth day after a birth was when Jewish custom decreed that a mother should come to the Temple for a ritual of purification after childbirth, and that a first born should be presented in the Temple.
In a broader context, the idea of any kind of uncleanliness requiring cleansing is so misunderstood by our age that this blog is not even going to begin to approach it. We leave that to others with greater knowledge and greater patience. The modern approach is to say that we are all perfectly good and never do any wrong, so we have nothing to be cleansed for and nothing to repent. That approach is rather far removed from, for example, the Catholic approach, which is to say that we, every single one of us, do all sorts of things wrong, and we are all in need of God's forgiveness, which He will lovingly and willingly give us if only we ask it.
The concept of the Presentation is perhaps more readily understood. The Jewish law, contained in the Old Testament, held that all firstborns belonged to God, although happily firstborn children were redeemed by their parents from the Temple. This reminds us, as does the Proclamation of the Nativity discussed at Christmas, that the Incarnation occurred at a particular time in a particular place, among the Jews in first century Palestine, and that God took on our human form and lived in every way the life that people at that time in that place knew.
Here, Christmas ends, the child born of a Virgin, whose existence has been revealed to the Jews, and in the Epiphany to the world, now comes to his own Temple. God had become truly present among us and, through giving his incarnate self back to us through his ritually redeemed Son, continued the redemption of all his people.
Given the importance of today's feast, it is no surprise that there is much fine music that has been written for use at services today. The first piece is a real example of Anglican Patrimony, a setting of the Nunc Dimittis by Stanford. Stanford sets the bass soloist the words contained in Luke's Gospel, spoken by the old man Simeon, who had been told that he would not see death before seeing the Lord's Christ.
Another piece, very well known in the Church of England, although perhaps, like the Cornelius anthem we mentioned recently, seeming to be more Anglican Patrimony than it truly is, is the setting by Johannes Eccard of Maria Wallt zum Heiligtum, usually known in England as When to the temple Mary went.
The third piece I would like to include is the Alleluia set for Mass today, Senex Puerum Portabat. This is the setting included by Byrd in his Gradualia.
There is also a very fine setting of Senex Puerum Portabat by Victoria, which you could hear if you were to be going to the London Oratory tonight. However, I am more than sure that all Ordinariate supporters free in London tonight will want to be at St James's for the 6pm mass this evening, in order to welcome Scott Anderson to the Catholic Church. Please gather at the back of church before Mass begins in order to participate in the candle ceremonies and procession.
I shall be in France, although I fear that I shall not be enjoying the French custom of making crepes on Candlemas, La Chandeleur.
A most blessed feast day to you all.