The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is also known as The Feast of the Purification of Mary, Candlemas and The Meeting of the Lord. The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is celebrated forty days after the Nativity (Christmas). The celebration recalls the presentation of the child at the Temple according to the Law. Jesus is welcomed at the Temple by two elderly people, Simeon and the prophetess, Anna, both of whom, beholding the child, praised God for the redemption of Israel. The feast has a second dimension, the purification ceremony for Mary after having given birth according to the Levitical laws.
The story of the "Presentation" of Jesus is told in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 2:22-38). What the narrative relates is the redemption of the child, Jesus, at the Temple in Jerusalem according to Jewish custom and in keeping with the biblical injunction by which the first-born were to be redeemed (Num. 18:15-16). The redemption price for a first-born boy child was five shekels. [The Pidyon haben/redemption of the son applied only to male children]. According to tradition (recorded in later halakhic codes, e.g., Shulkhan Aruch and Yoreh De'ah) the child was presented after at least 30 days had passed after his birth.
The events related in the Gospel of Luke seems to combine the Redemption of the First Born with another obligation—that of the purification of the mother after childbirth. The purification ceremony required that the mother should bring two offerings to the Temple which the Kohen would offer on her behalf. The offerings, a burnt offering (olah) and a sin offering (hatat) were presented at the Temple after the completion of her period of impurity. The purpose of the hatat offering was the removal of ritual impurity following childbirth and the olah symbolized the mother's renewed capacity (she being no longer ritually impure) to approach the sanctuary. The "pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons" mentioned in the gospel text are the hatat and olah sacrifices to be offered by the mother who had insufficient means to present the designated lamb as an olah. A young pigeon or turtle dove remained the designated hatat offering for rich or poor (cf. Leviticus 12:1-8).
The period of ritual impurity for a mother of a male child is designated 40 days, seven days from the birth till the child's curcumcision on the eigth day (Lev. 12:2-3) and a further "three and thirty days" (v. 4) after which she was required to bring offerings to the Temple so that she would be ritually purified.
Etz Hayim—“Tree of Life” © 2009
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Editorial material prepared by Elizabeth Young 2009