Forty Days Had Passed Since the angels sang their Glorias to the white chalked hills of Bethlehem. It was now the second day of February. According to Jewish Law, every mother after giving birth to a male child was to present herself at the Temple of Jerusalem to be purified, and to offer her child to God in testimony that all gifts come from Him. And thus it was that the Lord of the Temple was brought to the Temple of the Lord.
The proper offering on such occasions was a yearling lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtle dove for a sin offering. The poor were permitted by the merciful Mosaic legislation to bring instead either two turtle doves or two pigeons. Such was the offering of Mary who possessed no wealth except the riches of the Lord of Heaven and earth.
The priest at the Temple on that day was Simeon, a devout Israelite already bent with the burden of years, but happy in the Divine Intimation that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah Who was to come. Simeon was the living representative and symbol of the old Jewish Law which for forty centuries had been expecting the Redeemer; he was the end of the race of Adam, the crown of the Old Testament, the fruit of its maturity, the end and consummation of Israel’s gift to the world.
When Our Blessed Mother laid the Divine Child in his arms, it was the moment of union of the Old and New Testaments, or better, the passage from the Old to the New. That gesture meant that all the promises of the Old Testament were accomplished and all the prophecies of God’s chosen people fulfilled. Antiquity had said its last word. History, which had until now recorded its battles and set down the rise and fall of its kingdoms as events before Christ, would henceforth write them down as happening in the year of Our Lord.
Once Simeon’s weary arms bore the weight of the Eternal and yet refused to break; once aged Simeon embraced Youth Who was before all ages; he could now take his leave, close the book of prophesies and bid adieu to his own life. And so in that age when old men cease to sing, Simeon opened the vents of song, and in the silence of the Temple, there arose like sweet-smelling incense, the sweet strains of the Nunc Dimittis. It was the compline of his life, as it is now the daily compline of the Church, the song the Church will sing in her old age when the Lord comes in the clouds of heaven on the day of the sunset of the world:
“Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; our word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel” (Lk 2: 29-32).
But all that light which flooded Mary’s soul was soon obscured, as a black cloud sometimes hides from us the face of the sun. Simeon’s words of joy turned into sorrow, as he spoke of the part Mother and Son were to play in the Redemption of the world:
“Behold this child is destined to bring about the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed. And a sword will pierce your own soul so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (LK 2: 34).
It was a solemn announcement that she was to guard the Victim until the Hour of Sacrifice and be the Shepherdess until the Lamb should be led to the slaughter on the sign of contradiction, which is the cross. It was an echo back to the Garden of Eden, where a tree brought the ruin of the first Adam, and at whose gates stood an angel with a flaming sword to guard the gates until the appointed hour of salvation. Simeon was now saying that the hour had come. The tree of Paradise that brought ruin would be transplanted to Calvary and be His cross; the sword of the angel would be lifted from his hands and driven into Mary’s heart, as a first witness that only those who are pierced through and through with the sword of sacrificial love shall enter the everlasting Eden of Heaven.
“A sign of contradiction!” “A sign that will be opposed!” Mary did not need to wait for Calvary’s cross! She saw now that He Who is Love, would be hated; that He Who is Peace, would be a pretext for war; that He Who is Life, would be an occasion for death; that He Who is Truth, would be the theme of all errors and heresies until the end of time; that He Who is Light would drive souls away by the very splendor of His Light; that He Who came to save the world, would be contradicted and crucified by the world; that he would be the touchstone of all hearts; that from now on men would have to take sides; that there would be no more one-fisted battles, no more half-drawn swords, no more divided loyalties; that souls would either gather with Him, or they would scatter, and that their opposition to Mercy would make their rejection the more fatal and merciless.
As Mary left the Temple that day she understood as she never understood before why the Magi brought with their joyous gifts of gold and incense, the bitter, sad and sorrowful gift of myrrh. She saw now that the law that bound Him would also bind her, and that while He would have the tree, she would have the sword; that as He was the new Adam, she would be the new Eve; and as Eve was instrumental in the fall, so she would be instrumental in the salvation as the Co-Redemptrix of the Redeemer Christ.
-Fulton J. Sheen
[Sheen, Fulton J., The Eternal Galilean, Copyright 1997 by Society of St. Paul, Inc., Alba House edition. printed in 2012, Ch. XIV p. 191-195.]