February 2 is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the day on which Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus at the Temple. The feast is sometimes also called the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, because, as Pope Benedict XVI points out in his Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, it commemorates three separate but related events. Forty days after the Birth of Christ at Christmas, in accordance with Jewish law, the Blessed Virgin appeared at the Temple to offer a purification sacrifice: two turtledoves or two young pigeons. Mary, of course, had no need to be purified, having remained a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Jesus, but in complying with the law, she signals its fulfillment in Christ.
The second event is the redemption of the firstborn, again as required under Jewish law, as ordered by God at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. The firstborn male belongs to God, and the parents must make an offering in lieu of their child, so that he may remain with them. Such an offering did not require coming to the Temple, but in Christ's case the Temple becomes very important: It is the place where He is dedicated to God in the third event, the Presentation.
At the end of the 40th day, Jesus will return home with Mary and Joseph. But He remains dedicated to God the Father, Who is represented in a special way by the Temple, which explains the event in Jesus' 12th year--the Finding in the Temple, which we call to mind in the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.
You can learn more about this great feast that marked the traditional end of the Christmas season in the Presentation of the Lord.
(A stained-glass window of the Presentation in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. Photo © Scott P. Richert)
More on the Presentation of the Lord:
- The Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary: The Presentation of the Lord
- Why Did the Groundhog See His Shadow? The Christian Origins of Groundhog Day
- Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (compare prices)