A Month of Purification
2/1/2019Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
As we look toward Lent, the Feast of the Presentation signals the Church’s profound need for renewal
WE OFTEN TAKE the names of the various months of the year for granted. Take February, for instance. It is the shortest month of the year and purportedly the last one added to the Roman calendar (around 713 B.C.). The word February comes from the Latin, februum— a word which means purification. Originally it may have referred to an ancient Roman purification feast held mid-month. For Christians, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season of purification usually beginning in February.
This year, Ash Wednesday doesn’t occur until March 6, but there is another way that we can regard February 2019 as a month of purification. In the Church’s tradition, Feb. 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Temple, is also a feast of purification. It commemorates the event when, according to Jewish law and custom, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple for the customary rites of purification. Jesus, the all-holy Son of God made man had no need to be purified. But carried in the arms of his mother, who herself was preserved from all sin, Jesus undergoes the prescribed rites.
Mary and Joseph are met at the Temple by the aged and holy Simeon, whose eyes of faith are as keen as ever. Filled with the Spirit, Simeon realizes that an extraordinary event is taking place. The long-awaited Messiah enters the Temple, his first encounter with his people. His arrival there attracts not only Simeon and Anna, the widow and prophetess, but perhaps even the Gentiles in the Temple area. Jesus’ entrance into the Temple signals its purification and foretells the hour when he will again purify the Temple of those who were using it for their own unclean purposes.
In both the East and West, the Church solemnly celebrates the Presentation of the Lord. In the East, this feast is sometimes called Hypapante, a word that commemorates the first meeting of the Messiah with his people. In the West, this feast is sometimes called Candlemas Day, a day in which candles are carried to honor the newborn Christ as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for his people Israel” (Lk 2:32). Because this event is not locked in the past but is rather a living mystery, we are challenged to welcome Christ anew into the temple of our hearts and the Temple which is the Church. His coming into our depths and into our midst signals and effects our purification from the darkness of sin and death.
The Feast of the Presentation takes place every February, but this year it takes on a special significance as Pope Francis gathers with the leadership of bishops’ conferences from around the world to discuss the sexual abuse crisis. For far too long has this crisis plagued the Church — wreaking havoc in the lives of victim-survivors and scandalizing the faithful. Please God, may this important meeting be a grace-filled moment of purification for the whole Church. Let us pray, and pray fervently, that it will set a direction that, in God’s grace, will truly purify the Church of this great evil and set the Church on the path of authentic renewal, holiness and credibility.
No single meeting and no set of measures, however effective in ensuring transparency and accountability, will be sufficient to deal with this crisis. At the end of the day, it is only the deep personal renewal of each member of the Church — beginning with its bishops — that will restore the Church’s beauty and vigor. But that renewal and purification must extend to every member of the Church, including the family of the Knights of Columbus.
May februarius, the month of February, be the beginning of that deep purification that will renew and beautify the Temple of the Church.