Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for Candlemas 2019: "Christ's Light has a price: the Cross"

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, February 2, 2019

Dear brothers and sisters,
My dearly beloved sons,

The Presentation of Jesus ends the first part of the liturgical cycle, that began with the first Sunday in Advent, and developed with the mystery of Jesus’ birth. The framework of the Presentation in the Temple is the Holy Family’s carrying out two commandments prescribed by the Law. A woman giving birth to a boy was considered as unclean, and therefore precluded from taking part in the liturgical ceremonies, for forty days. Once this period had elapsed, she was to offer a sacrifice for her purification: a lamb as a burnt offering, and a turtledove for the sin. Those who were poorer were entitled to give only two young pigeons or two turtledoves. In the case of a first-born, who according to the Law belonged to God, they had to add the price to redeem him, five shekels, which could be paid to any priest.

Benedict XVI remarks that St. Luke, after he has recalled the commandments prescribed by the Law, no longer evokes Jesus’ redemption, but a third event, the object of our feast, the Presentation:

Obviously, what he means is that this child doesn’t have to be redeemed, and is no longer belonging to his parents, but quite the reverse, he has been personally entrusted to God in the Temple, he has been given to God as His full property. (Joseph Ratzinger - Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives, ch. 3, § The Presentation)

None of the acts prescribed by the Law required that the Holy Family should go to the Temple. What could then be the motive for going up to Jerusalem, if not to offer the Child to God? Yet, Jerusalem and the Temple are also the place of priesthood and sacrifice. Concerning Jesus, Pierre de Bérulle writes in his comment on the mystery of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple:

He knows that it is into Jerusalem that He is going. He knows that Jerusalem is the place foretold by the prophets, and consecrated for His sufferings. He knows that it is the place which must be honored with His presence, which is to resound with His words, which is to be amazed by His miracles, which is to be irrigated with His blood, which is to bear the hallmark of His death, His burial, His going up to heaven. (Opuscules de piété, n° 79 - Migne 56)
During Advent, we appropriated the feelings of the people of the Old Testament, and we awaited the Savior, the Messiah promised by God and announced by the prophets, and we prepared for His coming. During Christmas night, we heard the words of the Angels to the shepherds: "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all men. For this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Lk 2:10-11)

We set off in the shepherds’ footsteps, and adored the Child in the crib, the Emmanuel. The course of liturgy illustrated the meaning of this name, “God with us,” through three manifestations or “epiphanies,” three special presences: when the Wise Men adore the Child in the crib and offer Him kingly presents; during His baptism by John, on the bank of Jordan, when both the Spirit, like a dove, and the Father, through His words, manifest also themselves and confirm the Baptist’s testimony; last, in Cana, where the water turned into wine heralds for the disciples the coming of the new times.

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple may appear as a new manifestation of the Lord, this time in the place where the heart of the Jewish people is beating. But the Lord hasn’t come solely to manifest Himself. He has a work to carry out, the reconciliation between God and man, in His Passover. Today’s feast, at the end of the Christmas cycle, leads us towards the acme of the liturgical year, the Paschal cycle.

Near the Temple, an old man, Simeon, taking up the Child in his arms, blesses God and says: "For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast
prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel." (Lk 2:30-32)

The old man’s words, while causing the amazement of His parents, bring about another announcement. After he has blessed them, Simeon adds, peaking to Mary: "Behold this Child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed." (Lk 2:34-35)

At that moment, Mary lives the very first of the seven sorrows that will lead her life towards the Cross (5th and 6th sorrows), and the Tomb (7th sorrow). Through her Fiat, everything was offered up, and especially this Child, whom she now brings into the Temple: “Be it done to me according to thy word.” While the angel Gabriel was hearing these words which opened the door to our salvation, was accomplished, as an echo in the secret of God, that to which the Epistle to the Hebrews bears witness: "Wherefore, when He cometh into the world He saith: Sacrifice and oblation Thou wouldest not: but a body Thou hast fitted to me. Holocausts for sin did not please Thee. Then said I: Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of me that I should do Thy will, O God." (Hb 10:5-7)

The perfect harmony between the Son and His Mother traces back Mary’s compassion to her motherhood. Mary’s “Yes” was born from her Son’s “Yes.” Today’s feast is the feast of light, Lumen ad revelationem gentium, “a light to the revelation of the Gentiles.”

But light has a price, a price freely wanted and accepted by God: the fight against darkness, the Cross. In the footsteps of so many monks and nuns, religious and consecrated persons, both men and women, let us renew, after Christ and Mary, the total offering of our lives ad revelationem gentium, so that the heart of every man and woman may open up to God’s light.