Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Closing an old book and
opening a new one to
mark the end of Candlemas

Opening a new preacher’s book and closing an old one in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation, brought an end to the 40-day season of Christmas and Epiphany-tide today. From tonight, we move into Ordinary Time, but just for two weeks, as Lent begins in a fortnight’s time on Ash Wednesday, 17 February.

The candles on the Advent Wreath in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, were lit for the last time this morning for the celebration of the Candlemas Eucharist.

Afterwards, two of us removed the Advent Wreath and candles, the Christmas Crib, the flower arrangements, and the holly, the ivy and the poinsettias decorating the pulpit and the windows, and packed away the crib for the next ten months – although the community Christmas Crib outside the church gates was still in place in Church Street this afternoon, complete with the visiting Magi.

Despite the lockdown, and the uncertainty about when the churches may open once again – whether this may be during Lent or in time for Easter celebrations – I still must plan to mark Holy Week and Easter.

Already, those plans include a series of five online Lenten studies led by members of the cathedral chapters of Limerick and Killaloe. To paraphrase or recycle a now-jaded saying, church buildings may be closed for Lent, but the Church is not.

One of the last things to do this morning was to open a new preachers’ book in the Vestry in Askeaton. I had made the last entry on Sunday in an old and fading book that is beginning to fall apart.

It was good to start a new preachers’ book with the first entry by marking the end of the season of Christmas and Epiphany-tide today. But it was also curious to look back on the entries in the book I had been using since I arrived in Askeaton four years ago.

The first entries in that book began in 1958, with entries by Canon Frederick Alexander Howard White (1885-1965), who had been the Rector of Askeaton, Shanagolden and Loughill for 30 years, since 1928, and stayed on in the parish for another five years, until 1963, when he retired at the age of 78. He died two years later, in 1965, shortly before his 80th birthday.

It was interesting to look at his entries in the book this morning. There were Sunday services every week, alternating between Morning Prayer and Matins with Holy Communion. Attendances were only marginally higher than they have been in pre-pandemic days, but it is surprising how few people remained behind for Holy Communion after what we knew well into the 1970s or later as ‘Mangled Matins.’

In the first few weeks of that old book, holiday cover seems to have been provided by the Revd (later Canon) Gerald Samuel Magahy (1923-2008), then the Headmaster of Villiers School and Diocesan Curate in Limerick. He later became Chaplain and Headmaster of the King’s Hospital, overseeing the school’s move from Blackhall Place in inner-city Dublin to Palemrstown in 1971. He was also successively Treasurer, Chancellor and Precentor of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Canon White was also one that interesting generation of Church of Ireland clergy who emerged from Rathmines School, a cradle for many for many priests, missionaries and bishops who were at the cutting edge of thinking in the post-disestablishment Church of Ireland, and run by the Revd Charles William Benson (1836-1919) for 40 years from 1859 to 1899.

He was also one of my predecessors as the Precentor of Limerick Cathedral, holding office 12 years from 1951 to 1963. Some people in the parish still remember him.

The last lighting of the candles on the Advent Wreath, celebrating Candlemas in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

‘The inner thoughts of many
will be revealed, and a sword
will pierce your own soul too’

The Presentation depicted in a window in the parish church in Murroe, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Tuesday 2 February 2021

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple


10 a.m., The Festal Eucharist

The Readings: Malachi 3: 1-5; Psalm 24: 1-10; Luke 2: 22-40.

There is a link to the readings HERE

The Presentation window in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Candlemas, comes 40 days after Christmas, and marks the end of the Christmas season.

This morning’s Gospel story (Luke 2: 22-40) recalls how the Virgin Mary presents the Christ-Child to the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. And, because of the poverty of this family, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph bring two cheap doves or pigeons as their offering.

This is the last great festival of the Christmas cycle. As we bring our Christmas celebrations to a close, this day is a real pivotal point in the Christian year, for we now shift from the cradle to the cross, from Christmas to Passiontide – Ash Wednesday and Lent are just two weeks away.

Candlemas bridges the gap between Christmas and Lent. It links the joy of the Christmas candles with the hope of the Pascal candle at Easter. It invites us to move from celebration to reflection and preparation, and to think about the source of our hope, our inspiration, our enlightenment.

We have the contrast between the poverty of this family and the richly-endowed Temple; the young Joseph and Mary with their first-born child and the old Simeon and Anna who are probably childless; the provincial home in Nazareth and the urbane sophistication of Jerusalem; the glory of one nation, Israel, and light for all nations, the Gentiles; the birth of a child and the expectation of death; darkness and light; new birth and impending death.

So, Candlemas is a feast day with a ‘bitter-sweet’ nature. It calls for rejoicing with all in the Temple celebrating the hope and the promise that this new child brings. Yet Simeon speaks in prophetic words of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will pierce the Virgin Mary’s heart. His words remind us sharply that Christmas is meaningless without the Passion and Easter.

After two decades of the darkness of recession and austerity, the economists were trying to look for the light at the end of the tunnel only to find the country in economic paralysis for the past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For many of us, we moved long ago from a time of financial certainty that allowed us to celebrate easily to a time of reflection and uncertainty. Now the double-edged sword of ‘Brexit’ and Covid-19 leave the majority of people with new sets of anxieties and uncertainties.

The lights of Christmas and its celebrations, if they were ever turned on, are dim and distant now. By this Candlemas most people in Ireland continue to live their very ordinary days with uncertainty, trying to grasp for signs of hope, wondering how long we must remain in the dark.

How Mary must have wept in her heart as in today’s Gospel story the old man Simeon hands back her child and warns her that a sword would pierce her heart (Luke 2: 35).

How many mothers are weeping in their hearts and clinging onto the rock of faith just by the end of their fingertips as their hearts, their souls, are pierced by a sword?

Mothers who were forced to give up their babies in the so-called Mother-and-Baby homes and who have been distressed by the recent report and media reports and discussions?

Mothers who see their special needs children denied special needs assistants in our schools?

Mothers who see their children waiting, waiting too long, for care in our hospitals or to move from the uncertainty of hotel rooms or hostels to a house and a home?

Mothers who saw their graduate daughters and sons unable to find employment and have still not returned home?

Mothers whose silent weeping is not going to bring home their adult emigrant children and the grandchildren born in Australia or the US?

Mothers whose gay sons and lesbian daughters are beaten up on the streets just for the fun of it and are afraid if they come out that our Church can only offer tea and sympathy, at best, but moralising prejudice most of the time?

Mothers whose husbands are on low pay, on PUP or dismissed as mere statistics in the figures for poverty?

Mothers whose adult children are caught up in substance abuse and have lost all hope for the future – for a future?

Mothers and grandmothers who have not been able to hug their children and grandchildren for months because of the pandemic lockdown?

These mothers know what TS Eliot calls ‘the certain hour of maternal sorrow.’ Like the Prophet in his poem A Song for Simeon, they ‘Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.’ And they know too how true Simeon’s words are for them this morning: ‘and a sword will pierce your soul too.’

And in the midst of all this heartbreak, these mothers still cling on to the edge of the rock of faith by the edges of their fingernails. Wondering who hears their sobbing hearts and souls.

So often it is difficult to hold on to hope when our hearts are breaking and are pierced. So often it is difficult to keep the lights of our hearts burning brightly when everything is gloomy and getting dark. But Simeon points out that the Christ Child does not hold out any selfish hope for any one individual or one family ... he is to be a light to the nations, to all of humanity.

And, as our leaders – political, social, economic and financial leaders – search in the dark for the hope that will bring light back into our lives, we can remind ourselves that this search will have no purpose and it will offer no glimmer of hope unless it seeks more than selfish profit. This search must seek the good of all, it must seek to bring hope and light to all, not just here, but to all people and to all nations.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Presentation depicted in a stained glass window in the Church of Saint Martin of Tours, Culmullen, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 2: 22-40 (NRSVA):

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

The Presentation depicted in a stained-glass window in the Church of SS Peter and Paul, Kilmallock, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: White.

Bidding Prayer:

The traditional Bidding Prayer for Candlemas:

Dear friends, forty days ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we recall the day on which he was presented in the Temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people.

As a sign of his coming among us, his mother was purified according to the custom of the time, and we now come to him for cleansing. In their old age Simeon and Anna recognised him as their Lord, as we today sing of his glory.

In this Eucharist, we celebrate both the joy of his coming and his searching judgement, looking back to the day of his birth and forward to the coming days of his passion.

So let us pray that we may know and share the light of Christ.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everliving God,
clothed in majesty,
whose beloved Son was this day presented in the temple
in the substance of our mortal nature:
May we be presented to you with pure and clean hearts,
by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God
the dayspring from on high has broken upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (cf Luke 1: 78, 79)
(Common Worship, p. 306)

Preface:

And now we give you thanks
because, by appearing in the Temple,
he comes near to us in judgement;
the Word made flesh searches the hearts of all your people,
to bring to light the brightness of your splendour:
(Common Worship, p. 306)

Post Communion Prayer:

God, for whom we wait,
you fulfilled the hopes of Simeon and Anna,
who lived to welcome the Messiah.
Complete in us your perfect will,
that in Christ we may see your salvation,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.

Blessing:

Christ the Son of God, born of Mary,
fill you with his grace
to trust his promises and obey his will:

The Presentation depicted in a stained glass window in the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Saffron Walden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Intercessions:

In peace let us pray to the Lord.

By the mystery of the Word made flesh
Good Lord, deliver us.

By the birth in time of the timeless Son of God
Good Lord, deliver us.

By the baptism of the Son of God in the river Jordan
Good Lord, deliver us.

For the kingdoms of this world,
that they may become the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ
We pray to you, O Lord.

For your holy, catholic and apostolic Church,
that it may be one
We pray to you, O Lord.

For the witness of your faithful people,
that they may be lights in the world
We pray to you, O Lord.

For the poor, the persecuted, the sick and all who suffer;
that they may be relieved and protected
We pray to you, O Lord.

For the aged, for refugees and all in danger,
that they may be strengthened and defended
We pray to you, O Lord.

For those who walk in darkness and in the shadow of death,
that they may come to your eternal light
We pray to you, O Lord.

Father, source of light and life,
Grant the prayers of your faithful people,
and fill the world with your glory, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Presentation depicted in a window in Peterborough Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

691, Faithful vigil ended (CD 39)
203, When candles are lighted on Candlemas day (CD 13)

A detail from the Presentation Window by the Harry Clarke Studio in Saint Flannan's Church, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



‘A Song for Simeon’ by
TS Eliot at Candlemas

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, a panel on the Triptych in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am preparing for a celebration of the Festal Eucharist later this morning to celebrate the Feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas.

Some years ago, at the celebration of Candlemas in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (2 February 2015), instead of a sermon, I read TS Eliot’s poem, A Song for Simeon, based on the canticle Nunc Dimittis.

This is one of two poems written about the time of Eliot’s conversion in 1927. He titles his poem A Song for Simeon rather than A Song of Simeon, the English sub-title of the canticle in The Book of Common Prayer, and it is one of four poems he published between 1927 and 1930 known as the Ariel Poems.

In Journey of The Magi and A Song for Simeon, Eliot shows how he persisted on his spiritual pilgrimage. He was baptised and confirmed in the Church of England on 29 June 1927. Journey of the Magi was published two months later, on 25 August 1927, and Faber published A Song for Simeon the following year, on 24 September 1928.

Both Journey of The Magi and A Song for Simeon draw on the journeys of Biblical characters concerned with the arrival of the Christ-child. Both poems deal with the past, with a significant Epiphany event, with the future – as seen from the time of that event, and with a time beyond time – death.

The narrator in Journey of the Magi is an old man, and in that poem, Eliot draws on a sermon from Christmas 1622 preached by the Caroline Divine, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626). A Song for Simeon is also put in the mouth of an old man, the prophet Simeon in the Temple in Jerusalem. Here too, Eliot draws on a Christmas sermon by Andrewes.

In both poems, Eliot uses significant images to explore the Christian faith, images that are also prophetic, telling of things to happen to the Christ Child in the future. In both of these poems, he focuses on an event that brings about the end of an old order and the beginning of a new one.

The Presentation depicted in a panel on the altar in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A Song for Simeon (TS Eliot)

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season had made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

The Presentation window in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Dates of publication corrected on 2 February 2021, thanks to TS Eliot Society UK.