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Feast of the Presentation of the Lord 1997

2 February 1997 - 1st World Day for Consecrated Life
- instituted by John Paul II who gave a Message, dated 6 January 1997 (Solemnity of the Epiphany) about this celebration. It "is intended to help the entire Church to esteem ever more greatly the witness of those persons who have chosen to follow Christ by means of the practice of the evangelical counsels and, at the same time, is intended to be a suitable occasion for consecrated persons to renew their commitment and rekindle the fervour which should inspire their offering of themselves to the Lord."

Pope John Paul II's Homily at Holy Mass
- in English, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Lumen ad revelationem gentium: a light for revelation to the Gentiles (cf. Lk 2:32).

Forty days after his birth, Jesus was taken by Mary and Joseph to the temple to be presented to the Lord (cf. Lk 2:22), according to what the law of Moses prescribes: “Every first-born male shall be consecrated to the Lord” (Lk 2:23); and to offer in sacrifice “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons, in accord with the dictate in the law of the Lord” (Lk 2:24).

In recalling these events, the liturgy intentionally and precisely follows the sequence of Gospel events: the completion of the 40 days following Christ’s birth. It does the same, later, with regard to the period between the Resurrection and the Ascension into heaven.

Three basic elements can be seen in the Gospel event celebrated today: the mystery of the coming, the reality of the meeting and the proclamation of the prophecy.

2. First of all, the mystery of the coming. The biblical readings we have heard stress the extraordinary nature of God’s coming: the prophet Malachi announces it in a transport of joy, the responsorial psalm sings it and Luke's Gospel text describes it. We need only listen, for example, to the responsorial psalm: “Lift up, O gates, your lintels ... that the king of glory may come in! Who is this king of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.... The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory” (Ps 23 [24]:7-8;10).

He who had been awaited for centuries enters the temple of Jerusalem, he who fulfils the promise of the Old Covenant: the Messiah foretold. The psalmist calls him “the king of glory”. Only later will it become clear that his kingdom is not of this world (cf. Jn 18:36) and that those who belong to this world are not preparing a royal crown for him, but a crown of thorns.

However, the liturgy looks beyond. In that 40-day-old infant it sees the “light” destined to illumine the nations, and presents him as the “glory” of the people of Israel (cf. Lk 2:32). It is he who must conquer death, as the Letter to the Hebrews proclaims, explaining the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature” (Heb 2:14), having taken on human nature.

After describing the mystery of the Incarnation, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews presents the mystery of Redemption: “Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (ibid., 2:17-18). This is a deep and moving presentation of the mystery of Christ. The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews helps us to understand better why this coming to Jerusalem of Mary’s newborn Son should be a decisive event in the history of salvation. Since it had been built, the temple was awaiting in a most exceptional way the One who had been promised. Thus his coming has a priestly meaning: “Ecce sacerdos magnus”; behold, the true and eternal High Priest enters the temple.

3. The second characteristic element of today’s celebration is the reality of the meeting. Even if no one was waiting for Joseph and Mary when they arrived hidden among the people at the temple in Jerusalem with the baby Jesus, something most unusual occurs. Here they meet persons guided by the Holy Spirit: the elderly Simeon of whom St Luke writes: “This man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ” (Lk 2:25-26), and the prophetess Anna, who had lived “with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Lk 2:36-37). The Evangelist continues: “And coming up at that very hour, she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38).

Simeon and Anna: a man and a woman, representatives of the Old Covenant, who, in a certain sense, had lived their whole lives for the moment when the temple of Jerusalem would be visited by the expected Messiah. Simeon and Anna understand that the moment has come at last, and reassured by the meeting, they can face the last phase of their life with peaceful hearts: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Lk 2:29-30).

At this discreet encounter, the words and actions effectively express the reality of the event taking place. The coming of the Messiah has not passed unobserved. It was recognized through the penetrating gaze of faith, which the elderly Simeon expresses in his moving words.

4. The third element that appears in this feast is prophecy: today truly prophetic words resound. Every day the Liturgy of the Hours ends the day with Simeon's inspired canticle: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, ... a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory of your people Israel” (Lk 2:29-32).

The elderly Simeon adds, turning to Mary: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34-35).

Thus while we are still at the dawn of Jesus’ life, we are already oriented to Calvary. It is on the Cross that Jesus will be definitively confirmed as a sign of contradiction, and it is there that his Mother’s heart will be pierced by the sword of sorrow. We are told it all from the beginning, on the 40th day after Jesus’ birth, on the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, so important in the Church’s liturgy.

5. Dear brothers and sisters, today’s feast is enriched this year with a new significance. In fact, for the first time we are celebrating the Day for Consecrated Life.

Dear men and women religious and you, dear brothers and sisters, members of secular institutes and societies of apostolic life, you are all entrusted with the task of proclaiming, by word and example, the primacy of the Absolute over every human reality. This is an urgent task in our time, which often seems to have lost the genuine sense of God. As I recalled in the Message I addressed to you for this first Day for Consecrated Life: “Truly there is great urgency that the consecrated life show itself ever more ‘full of joy and of the Holy Spirit’, that it forge ahead dynamically in the paths of mission, that it be backed up by the strength of lived witness, because ‘modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and ‘if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses’ (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 41)” (L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 29 January 1997, p. 3).

Together with the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna, let us go to meet the Lord in his temple. Let us welcome the light of his Revelation, committing ourselves to spreading it among our brothers and sisters in view of the now imminent Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

May the Blessed Virgin,
Mother of hope and joy,
accompany us
and grant that all believers
may be witnesses to the salvation
which God has prepared in the presence of all peoples
in his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for the glory of his people Israel. Amen!"

Papa Giovanni Paolo II's words at the Angelus
- in English, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Today, the feast of Candlemas, we recall the presentation of Jesus in the temple. Forty days after his birth, Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem to offer him to the Lord as prescribed by the law of Moses. This is an episode that fits within the perspective of the People of Israel’s special consecration to God. But it also has a broader meaning: it recalls the gratitude we owe the Creator for every human life.

Life is a great gift of God, to be always welcomed with thanksgiving. If last Sunday I was concerned about the absence of values that threatens our society, today I would like forcefully to recall one of these basic values which must be absolutely recovered if we do not want to fall headlong into the abyss. I am referring to the sacred value of life, of every human life, from its origin in the mother's womb to its natural end.

I say this, recalling that in Italy today Pro-Life Day is being celebrated, a favourable opportunity for vigorously affirming that life, one’s own and that of others, cannot be disposed of at will: it belongs to the Author of life. Love inspires the culture of life, while selfishness inspires the culture of death. Choose life, says the Lord, that you and your descendants may live! (cf. Dt 30:19).

2. In the temple of Jerusalem, according to the Gospel account, Simeon, an elderly man of God, takes Jesus in his arms and recognizes that in him salvation has come for Israel and for all peoples: the Light of the Gentiles (cf. Lk 2:30:31).

The words of the holy old man express the longing that pervades human history. They express that waiting for God, that universal desire, unconscious perhaps, but ineffaceable, that he would come to meet us so that we might be able to share in his life. Simeon embodies the image of humanity striving to grasp that ray of light which renews all things, the seed of life that transforms all old age into everlasting youth.

3. In this context, the Day for Consecrated Life that we are celebrating today for the first time takes on a special significance. For some time the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple has brought together in diocesan communities the members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, to show God’s People the joy of unreserved commitment to the Lord and his kingdom. I wanted this experience to be extended to the whole Church, to give thanks to God for the great gift of consecrated life and to encourage ever greater gratitude and esteem for it. We are also spurred by the recently celebrated Synod of Bishops on the consecrated life, whose results are contained in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata.

As I invite you to pray, dear friends, for our brothers and sisters who offer their witness to the poor, chaste and obedient Christ, my thoughts turn in a particular way to all those who have enriched their service to the Church with the sacrifice of their lives. I have just heard the news of the tragic death of Fr Guy Pinard, a Missionary of Africa, who was cruelly killed this morning as he celebrated Mass at his parish church in Ruhengeri, Rwanda. Let us pray to the Blessed Virgin for him, for his loved ones and for his people, that they may once again find peace in the respect for life."

After praying the Angelus the Holy Father said:

"La Diocesi di Roma associa, oggi, alla Giornata della Vita la Settimana della Famiglia. Veramente, la vita matrimoniale, condotta secondo il disegno di Dio, costituisce essa stessa un "vangelo", di cui il mondo ha bisogno, così come ha bisogno della testimonianza offerta dalla vita consacrata. Possano tutte le famiglie, e in particolare quelle romane, essere protagoniste del cammino missionario che prepara al Giubileo del Duemila.

Esprimo, altresì, vivo compiacimento per il Simposio sul tema "Genoma e invecchiamento. Il mistero dell'uomo", svoltosi nei giorni scorsi a Roma, ed auspico che lo studio interdisciplinare contribuisca alla promozione della vita umana nella sua dignità e nei suoi diritti.

Saluto con affetto i pellegrini presenti, in particolare i gruppi di fedeli della diocesi di Pistoia e della parrocchia di sant'Agostino in Prato. San Pietro ottenga per tutti una fede viva e perseverante.

Doy una cordial bienvenida a los fieles de lengua española, en especial a los grupos de Madrid y Guadalajara, que peregrinan a la tumba de Pedro para confesar la fe en Cristo. Que la proclamación del Credo os haga fieles testigos del Evangelio. Os bendigo de corazón a vosotros y vuestras familias.

Saluto anche i pellegrini provenienti dalla Polonia, e in particolar modo i Cavalieri di Malta.

«Benvenuti a Roma! Auguro a tutti una buona domenica e una buona settimana. Ci avviciniamo già alla Quaresima. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!»"

JPII - Sunday 2 February 1997 - © Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana