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Fr Thomas’ homily for 2 February, Candlemass.
Tuesday 4 February 2020 Articles

“The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come into his Temple.”

If we turn back into the Old Testament, to when the Temple first came into use, we find an extraordinary scene. Vast crowds gathered rejoicing this profound moment, the priests and Levites lead the people in worship, the Ark of the Covenant which represented God’s presence among his people was carried into the sanctuary, King Solomon offered prayers of dedication, and so many sheep and cattle were sacrificed that the Bible says that they couldn’t be numbered. Then in the moment of climax, the presence of God descended in a cloud, so powerful was this presence that the priests were unable to stand and minister. A truly awesome moment as God arrived to dwell in his temple.

When Malachi the prophet spoke of the Lord coming to his temple, no doubt this was the sort of idea that he had in his mind. Clouds of the presence descending, amazed on-lookers unable to do anything other than worship God with hearts so full that they are about to burst.

Then a few hundred years later a couple arrived, carrying a tiny child in their arms, seeking to offer the standard sacrifice for a first-born son. When the Gospel relates the story it doesn’t even mention the duty priest, he probably barely noticed them – here was a normal typical case, quickly dispatch the animals and let the parents give thanks for their son and return to get on with their lives. There would have been many worshippers gathered there, as every day, and they too would barely even notice this couple and their infant son.

Yet, here was the fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy. Here was the Lord suddenly coming into his temple. That tiny child was nothing less than the same God who made the whole universe, the God to whom sacrifices were being offered…here he arrives to purify the sons of Levi, so that they can offer pure and true worship to God.

This is the same God to whose glory the Temple was built, the same God to whom sacrifices had been offered, the same God whose glory in the cloud meant that the priests couldn’t even stand and minister to him. But here he is, carried in the arms of his mother. On that original dedication, the priests had carried the Ark of the Covenant in a grand procession – now the new ark, Our Lady, walks quietly bearing the new covenant himself. Along with S. Joseph she presents a pair of young pigeons in thanksgiving; but in her arms she carries the greater sacrifice, she carries the Lamb of God, that Lamb who will be sacrificed – not on an altar in the Temple but on the altar of the cross.

The old and new covenants meet. Remaining obedient to the law, Our Lady and S. Joseph offer a tiny sacrifice, yet as they do so they point forward to the true, the great, the all-sufficient sacrifice. Those old sacrifices were images of the Cross, they all pointed forward to what would come later; but the image is now to be replaced by the true version. We don’t need a portrait or a photograph to let us know what a person in the same room looks like; so too, once Christ has come, once he ascends Mount Calvary we don’t need the sacrifice whose job is to point towards it. This then is the true and purified worship which Malachi tells us will be offered once the Lord has come into his Temple.

It’s always good to hear how prophecies have been fulfilled; this reassures us that God is faithful to his word, that when he has promised that something will happen then it will come to be at the right moment. But it can all seem very remote. Does this mean anything to us today? is this something which has an impact on our lives today? Does it mean anything to talk of sacrifice?

Of course, the answer is yes. Sacrifice sits at the very heart of our religion. No longer that long string of individual sacrifices, with various animals being killed; now our sacrifice is that Lamb who was presented in the Temple by Our Lady. The sacrifice offered on the Cross, the place where God’s love for us all was shown to be beyond measure. The sacrifice which is offered anew every day on every Catholic altar – the sacrifice of the Mass. This is what Malachi speaks of when he speaks of purified worship – the Cross, and our taking part in that offering by joining ourselves to it in Mass.

This is also what the writer of Hebrews is talking about. Christ is our high priest, one who is perfectly pure, and therefore the worship which he offers is perfectly pure. Pure because he is God. But also worship which we can be a part of because he is human too. Worship which will continue for ever, because Christ will continue for ever. This the great mystery on which the Catholic Faith is built. That the action of Christ two thousand years ago can be made present to us today; that we can be brought into that action. That we are invited to worship not as mere spectators, but that by reaching out to God with our hearts we are truly taking our part in the relationship of love which is the true meaning of worship.

This calls for a response from us. We can hear this, we can be glad of this, but it is only ever an offer until we decide to do something about it. When Christ allowed himself to be presented in the Temple he was offered to the Father; when he allowed himself to be raised on the Cross, again he was offered to the Father – that is what we are invited into. To join with Christ in this is to be offered to God.
If we do this, then we receive back from God far more than we can even imagine, certainly vastly more than we give to him. But we do need to accept the invitation. We need to decide whether we are willing to be offered, as Christ was offered. If we are, then we can associate ourselves with that offering here at Mass; we can present ourselves spiritually on the altar.

That is what God asks of us, but in return he promises to give us everything that he is.

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