Text: Henry John Pye (1827-1903). Tune: Regent Square or Lindsborg
1 In His temple now behold Him; See the long-expected Lord! Ancient prophets had foretold him; God hath now fulfilled His word. Now to praise Him, His redeemèd Shall break forth with one accord.
2 In the arms of her who bore Him, Virgin pure, behold Him lie, While His aged saints adore Him, Ere in perfect faith they die: Alleluia! Alleluia! Lo, the incarnate God most high!
3 Jesus, by Thy Presentation, Thou, Who didst for us endure, Make us see Thy great salvation, Seal us with Thy promise sure; And present us in Thy glory To Thy Father cleansed and pure.
4 Prince and author of salvation, Be Thy boundless love our theme! Jesus, praise to Thee be given By the world Thou didst redeem, With the Father and the Spirit, Lord of majesty supreme!
The secular world will observe this day with silly events waiting for some kind of furry mammal to emerge from its den into the light. If it is sunny, and the animal sees its shadow, legend has it, there will be six more weeks of winter. It began as Candlemas when people began looking for the end of winter. The Scots had a rhyme to mark the connection with the weather: If Candlemas is fair and clear/There’ll be two winters in the year.” Whether or not the animal sees its shadow or not, there will generally be six more weeks of winter where I live, if not more. Oddly enough, it came to the US from Germans who celebrated Candlemas time saying something to the same effect, speaking of the badger as the animal who would see its shadow.
Candlemas, the last day of the Christmas celebrations, commemorates the day that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for her purification forty days after the birth of Jesus as prescribed by the law. It became a festival of light. People would take in their candles to be blessed. And the candles that were blessed would be used during the year as a sign that Jesus was the light of the world.
It is one of the oldest feasts in the church going way back into the fourth century. It has continued through the centuries and still noted in countries around the world: Finland and Sweden have had a service celebrating the light. As have those countries with Spanish traditions. Of course there is food: pancakes or crepes with their circular shapes and golden color to remind of the return of the sun and light. Mexicans celebrate with tamales, Peru with dances, Puerto Rico with processions of candles, etc.
I have written more about the ritual of purification elsewhere in the hymnblogs which you can read here:
What I love is the meeting of the generations, the ending and beginning, the old meeting the new; Simeon greets the new covenant, knowing it is the end of him, but not of his hopes. And so he sings his marvelous song which is best in the King James Version: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word. For mine eye have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of the people Israel.”
What it says is more and more true to me as I grow old. The picture of the old man Simeon seeing his ending and beginning is rich as is the scene of Anna raising up her hands rejoicing throughout the temple. No has done better portrayals of this moment than Rembrandt who must have loved it as he did several versions. In the one just above we see the deep shadows of the temple surrounding them, and the golden light on the main characters. Mary is a simple young woman. Simeon. Mary and the baby are bathed in light. The steps up to the high priest are now dark, and the real center of the faith is on the child in light.
This story can never be exhausted. Artists have rendered it for nearly two thousand years; poets have responded to it with poetry; preachers expound on it, theologians interpret it, but it never is exhausted. I have tried my hand at it several times and always been influenced by the several paintings and drawings of Rembrandt. Here is one from my collection of sonnets The Sword of Eden: Eve and Mary Speak. In one sense, the secular celebration shows us how much we long for the light. It is our job as Christians to point people to the Light of the world. People have rarely needed it as much as they do now. Point to him and rejoice.
He met us with a song his body knew
Mouthing the prophets’ cries in his prayers
His hope visible, his death coming into view.
He took the baby, blessing him, long prepared.
Chanting a verse I never would forget—
Swords piercing my heart, the old man sang,
Seeing the thorns, the lance, the blood he shed
On the cross. Far away bright weapons clanged.
We offered our sacrifice, two turtledoves
Cleansing me, bringing me back to the rites.
The temple’s golden light glimmered over us
Singing for love, holding the world’s true light
Wondering at the ruddy child he held
Doing our duties, the prophecies fulfilled.
From the Sword of Eden/Mary Ponders, XVIII
Gracia Grindal Copyright © 2018
Henry John Pye was a typical supporter of the Oxford movement in England. An ordained Anglican clergyman, he worked to recover the treasures of the early church and plumb its resources of hymnody and thought. In this work, he grew closer and closer to the Church of Rome and in 1868 he and his wife joined the Roman Catholic Church. This hymn On the Purification of Mary is his most famous. It appeared in the Salisbury Hymn Book, 1857; The entire hymn text was published in 1853 by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in its hymn collection, and in Church Hymns, 1871. Regent Square seems to be the more popular tune, but there are several that have worked. The LBW used one by Robert Leaf, a Swedish American composer and hymn writer. Thus the name of the tune was Lindsborg, for Lindsborg, Kansas where Bethany College, a Swedish American Lutheran College is today.