The Sword of Sorrow
Thomas A. Droleskey
Today is the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, marking forty days since Christmas Day and the end of the Christmas season. Also known as Candlemas, today's Mass is preceded by the solemn blessing of the candles that are to be used in Catholic churches, save for the Paschal Candle, and in the homes of individual Catholics throughout the course of the next year. This is a glorious feast that should be celebrated with great joy.
First of all, Our Lady demonstrated once again on this day her extraordinary humility in fulfilling perfectly the precepts of the Mosaic Law even though she had not been defiled by the miraculous birth of her Divine Son, Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Our Lady submitted herself to the demands of the Mosaic Law concerning the ritual purification of a woman forty days after the birth of a male child by the sin-offering of two pigeons or turtle doves. Yes, Our Lady, who was conceived without any stain of Original or Actual Sin, did as was required of all Jewish women despite the fact of her own sinlessness. Once again, you see, Our Lady is teaching us that we must humbly submit ourselves to God's laws, which have been entrusted for all eternity by her own Divine Son to the Church He founded upon the Rock of Peter, the Pope. This means that every Catholic must submit himself to of God's laws and the traditions that have been handed down from the time of the Apostles. How lacking in humility are those who believe that it is both desirable and necessary to modify what has been handed down to us in light of "modern" theology in order to suit the "needs" of "modern" man!
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., writing in The Liturgical Year, commented on Our Lady's perfect obedience to God the Father:
The Forty Days of Mary's Purification are now completed, and she must go up to the Temple, there to offer to God her Child Jesus. Before following the Son and his Mother in this their mysterious journey, let us spend our last few moments at Bethlehem, in lovingly pondering over the mysteries at which we are going to assist.
The Law commanded that a woman who had given birth to a son should not approach the Tabernacle for the term of forty days; after which time she was to offer a sacrifice for her purification. She was to offer up a lamb as a holocaust, and a turtle or dove as a sin-offering. But if she were poor, and could not provide a lamb, she was to offer in its stead a second turtle or dove.
By another ordinance of the Law, every first-born son was to be considered as belonging to God, and was to be redeemed by five sicle, each sicle weighing, according to the standard of the Temple twenty obols.
Mary was a Daughter of Israel--she had given birth to Jesus--he was her First-born Son. Could such a Mother and such a Son be included in the laws we have just quoted? Was it becoming that Mary should observe them?
If she considered the spirit of these legal enactments and why God required the ceremony of Purification, it was evident that she was not bound to them. They for whom these laws had been made were espoused to men; Mary was the chaste Spouse of the Holy Ghost, a Virgin in conceiving and a Virgin in giving birth to her Son; her purity had ever been spotless as that of the Angels; but it received an incalculable increase by her carrying the God of all sanctity in her womb, and bringing him into the world. Moreover, when she reflected upon her Child being the Creator and Sovereign Lord of all things, how could she suppose that he was to be submitted to the humiliation of being ransomed as a slave, whose life and person are not his own?
And yet the Holy Spirit revealed to Mary that she must comply with both these laws. She, the holy Mother of God, must go to the Temple like other Hebrew mothers, as though she had lost something which needed restoring by a legal sacrifice. He that is the Son of God and Son of Man must be treated in all things as though he were a servant and be ransomed in common with the poorest Jewish boy. Mary adores the will of God, and embraces it with her whole heart.
The Son of God was only to be made known to the world by gradual revelations. For thirty years he led a hidden life in the insignificant village of Nazareth; and during all that time men took him to be the son of Joseph. It was only in his thirtieth year that John the Baptist announced him, and then only in mysterious words to the Jews, who flocked to the Jordan, there to receive the Prophet to the baptism of penance. Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ himself gave the next revelation the testimony of his wonderful works and miracles. Then came the humiliations of his Passion and Death, followed by glorious Resurrection which testified to the truth of his prophecies, proved the infinite merits of his Sacrifice, and in a word, proclaimed his Divinity. The earth had possessed its God and its Saviour for three and thirty years, and men, with a few exceptions, knew it not. The Shepherds of Bethlehem knew it; but they were not told, as were afterwards the Fishermen of Genesareth to go and preach the Word to the furthermost parts of the world. The Magi, too knew it; they came to Jerusalem and and spoke of it, and the City was in a commotion; but all was soon forgotten, and the Three Kings went back quietly to the East. These two events, which would, at a future day, be celebrated by the Church as events of most important interest to mankind, were lost upon the world, and the only ones that appreciated them were a few true Israelites, who had been living in expectation of a Messias who was to be poor and humble, and was to save the world. The majority of the Jews would not even listen to the Messias having been born; for Jesus was born at Bethlehem, and the Prophets had distinctly foretold that the Messias was to be called a Nazarene.
The same Divine plan which had required that Mary should be espoused to Joseph, in order that her fruitful Virginity might not seem strange in the eyes of the people, now obliged her to come, like other Israelite mothers, to offer the sacrifice of Purification for the birth of the Son, whom she had conceived by the operation of the power of the Holy Ghost, but who was to be presented in the Temple as the Son of Mary, the Spouse of Joseph. Thus it is that Infinite Wisdom delights in showing that his thoughts are not our thoughts, and in disconcerting our notions; he claims the submissiveness of our confidence, until the time that he has fixed for withdrawing the veil, and showing himself to our astonished view.
The Divine Will was dear to Mary in this as in every circumstance of her life. The Holy Virgin knew that by seeking this external rite of Purification, she was in no wise risking the honour of her Child, or failing in the respect due to her own Virginity. She was in the Temple of Jerusalem what she was in the house of Nazareth, when she received the Archangel's visit; she was the Handmaid of Lord. She obeyed the Law because she seemed to come under the Law. Her God and her Son submitted to the ransom as humbly as the poorest Hebrew would have to do; he had already obeyed the edict of the emperor Augustus in the general census; he was to be obedient even unto death, even to the death of the Cross. The Mother and the Child both humbled themselves in the Purification, and man's pride received, on that day, one of the greatest lessons ever given it.
What a journey was this of Mary and Joseph, from Bethlehem to Jerusalem! The Divine Babe is in his Mother's arms; she had him on her heart the whole way. Heaven and earth and all nature are sanctified by the gracious presence of their merciful Creator. Men look at this Mother as she passes along the road, with her sweet Jesus; some are struck with her appearance, others pass her by as not worth a look; but of the whole crowd, thee was not one that knew he had been so close to God who had come to save him.
Joseph is carrying the humble offering, which the Mother is to give to the Priest. They are too poor to buy a lamb; besides, their Jesus is the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world. The Law required that a turtle or a dove should be offered in the lace of a lamb, when the mother was poor. Innocent birds! emblems of purity, fidelity and simplicity. Joseph has also provided the five sicles, the ransom to be given for the First-born Son--Mary's only Son, who has vouchsafed to make us his brethren, and, by adopting our nature, to render us partakers of his.
At length the Holy Family enter Jerusalem. The name of this holy City signifies Vision of Peace; and Jesus comes to bring her Peace. Let us consider the names of the three places in which our Redeemer began, continued and ended his life on earth. He is conceived at Nazareth, which signifies a Flower; and Jesus is, as he tell us in the Canticle the Flower of the field and the Lily of the valley, by whose fragrance we are refreshed. He is born at Bethlehem, the House of Bread, for he is the nourishment of our souls. He dies on the Cross in Jerusalem, and by his Blood, he restores peace between heaven and earth, peace between men, peace within our own souls; and on this day of His Mother's Purification, we shall find him giving us the pledge of this peace.
Whilst Mary, the living Ark of the Covenant, is ascending the steps which lead up to the Temple, carrying Jesus in her arms, let us be attentive to the mystery; one of the most celebrated of the prophecies is about to be accomplished in this Infant. We have already had the other predictions fulfilled, of his being conceived of a Virgin, and born in Bethlehem; today he shows us a further title to our adoration--he enters the Temple. (Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year)
Yes, this is the day the Infant Jesus was Presented in the Temple. Our Lady and Saint Joseph presented the Infant Jesus in the Temple so as to be offered to God before being "ransomed" back for a nominal price (several shekels). This is a foreshadowing of Our Lady's standing valiantly by the foot of her Divine Son's Cross on Good Friday, wherein He offered Himself up to the Father in Spirit and in Truth to ransom us from the blood-debt of sin incurred by the first Adam when he partook of the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Even. Our Lady got her Divine Son back in her loving arms after Saint Joseph paid the "ransom" this day. She received His lifeless, dead Body back in her loving arms after He was taken down from the wood of the Cross. The Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple is indeed a prefiguring of the Sacrifice of the Cross and of Its unbloody re-presentation in the Mass.
Thirdly, this is the day that the aged Simeon, whom most of his relatives probably thought was daft for spending all of his time in the Temple praying and praying and praying, beheld the Infant Jesus in his arms. Simeon knew that he would not die until he had laid his eyes on the Messiah and until he had behold Him in his very arms. The Canticle of Simeon, Nunc Dimmitis, is read every night by those who pray Compline:
Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation,
which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel (Lk. 2:29-32)
Simeon never doubted that he would see the Messiah face to face before he died. He put his faith completely in God, never questioning how long that it might take for God to reveal Himself to him in the flesh. This should remind us once again that God is indeed faithful to His promises, which He keeps in His own good time. We must remain steadfast in prayer during our current difficulties, both temporally and ecclesiastically, trusting totally in the path that God has shown us will result in a certain period of peace, that is, the Triumph of Our Lady's Immaculate Heart, never tiring through the years, always understanding that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ wants us to give Him all of our labors and sufferings through that same Immaculate Heart to bring about a victory so miraculous as to make the sorrows of the present day appear to lasted but for a moment.
Indeed, Simeon himself knew that the Child he beheld in his aged, weary arms was going to be opposed and contradicted by the forces of the worldly wise. It was in this vein that Simeon prophesied to Our Lady that a sword of sorrow would piece her own heart:
And his father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; and thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed. (Lk. 2: 33-35)
Father Frederick Faber commented on this prophecy in his The Dolors of Mary/The Foot of the Cross:
Alas, poor Mother! her heart is all wounds, one opening into another, lifelong wounds, which, like the stigmata of the Saints, bleed, but never ulcerate. At least those who contradict Him shall learn at last to see the greatness of their error. They shall come back to Him like wanderers. They shall one day become themselves triumphs of His redeeming grace. Out of Him flow grace, and sweetness, and attraction and healing. His beauty, confessed at last, shall wind itself around them as a spell. Thus the grief of this contradiction may be endurable. But, no! the sword of Simeon, like the sword of the Cherubim that guards the entrance of the earthly paradise, "flames and turns every way." Positus in ruinam multorum, set for the fall of many, their utter fall, their ruin, their irreparable ruin! Is Jesus to lose forever some of His own creatures? Nay, is He to drive them from Himself by the very brightness of His light, by the very heavenliness of His beauty? Are there to be souls for whim it would have been better had He never come? Oh, cruel thought, cruellest of all! For the more Mary mused upon the Passion, and the longer she had it all before her eyes, all the more avariciously she coveted souls, the more she hungered and thirsted after the harvest of the Passion, and became the Mother of sinners because she was the Mother of the Saviour, the Mother who gave Him away to death when she had possessed Him but forty days in Bethlehem. The countless multitudes of those who were to be saved were the nearest approach to an alleviation of her inconsolable sorrow. But even upon this semblance of a consolation she was not to lean. Oh, it was a fearful thought to think of her beautiful Child, that He was to be in some sense a destroyer. Not altogether a Saviour, but a law of life which was to be a sentence of death to some, nay, to many. Things had become very grave now between God and His world. Jesus would be a touchstone. Men must take their sides now, more definitely, for their return. The very greatness of this last long prophesied mercy made the rejection of it the more fatal and irretrievable. The salvation of men would now be in some respects more like that of the angels. Their probation was becoming more divine, and therefore more decisive. To reject Jesus was to be lost eternally, and yet the "Rejected of men" was one of the very names which Scripture gave Him. If any thing could been hard to Mary's faith, it would have been that Jesus was to be the ruin of many souls; and faith's heroic acceptance of this worshipful truth only made the edge of it keener, and the point sharper, to go down into her heart. (Father Frederick Faber, The Dolors of Mary/The Foot of the Cross, pp. 88-89.)
As we know, we should meditate on this First of the Seven Dolors of Our Lady every single day without fail. Our Lady would indeed experience sorrow on this day and on six others occasions (the Flight into Egypt, the Losing of the Child Jesus, the Way of the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Pieta, the Burial of Jesus). Her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart suffered in perfect compassion with the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus during His Passion and Death. Our sins caused Our Lady to suffer unspeakable grief as she watched her Divine Son redeem us on the wood of the Holy Cross.
We kid ourselves, however, if we think that we do not continue to grieve her Immaculate Heart by our least sins today. We do. Just think of the image of her appearance at La Salette, France, on September 19, 1846, when Our Lady sat and wept over the such sins of her children as eating meat on Friday and working on Sunday. We deceive ourselves seriously if we think that our least venial sins do not cause new swords of sorrow to pierce Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, which is why we must console Our Lady's Immaculate Heart with our acts of love, fidelity, and voluntary penances.
The aged Simeon's prophecy that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ would be "set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel" is a direct rejoinder to the heresy of Universal Salvation propagandized by the late Hans Urs von Balthasar, a mentor of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. As a commentary in the Douay-Rheims Bible notes:
Christ came for the salvation of all men; but here Simeon prophesies what would come to pass, that many through their own wilful blindness and obstinacy would not believe in Christ, nor receive his doctrine, which therefore would be ruin to them: but to others a resurrection, by their believing in him, and obeying his commandments.
This well-put truth of Catholic doctrine demonstrates clearly and unequivocally that the belief that all men, whether baptized or unbaptized, are saved is a heresy. Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ wants to extend His ineffable Mercy to all men. It is not so that all men will seek out that Mercy, which is why Our Lady grieved at the moment her Divine Son's dead Body was placed in her arms as It was taken down from the Cross. She knew that her Son had died in vain for so many obstinate souls. We must pray that we will seek out Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ's Mercy frequently as it is administered to us by the words and actions of an alter Christus in the Sacred Tribunal of Penance. We must, as Saint Paul exhorted in his Epistle to the Philippians, work out our salvation in "fear and in trembling" (cf. Philippians 2: 12)
If, though, we take seriously the words of Simeon uttered to Our Lady and Saint Joseph, then we will come to understand that we have been called by virtue of our Baptism to join with Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as a Sign of Contradiction in the midst of the world in which God has known from all eternity we would be alive to work out our salvation as members of His true Church, the Catholic Church. Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is opposed to this very day by all manner of evil forces within the world. His truths are being undermined by many of those who hold authority in the counterfeit church of conciliarism. We must be willing to run whatever risks are necessary to contradict the defenders of Modernity's war against the Incarnation and the entirety of Deposit of Faith. We must also be willing to contradict the defenders of Modernism's war against the Deposit of Faith that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ gave to the Apostles to be handed down without one iota of change. We must eschew every scintilla of human respect to be faithful to the perennial teaching of the Church without any hint of compromise with the ethos of conciliarism or its ravenous wolves who masquerade as "shepherds."
Why can't doctrine or its formulation or expression change? Because there is no change in God. Consider these words from the Epistle of Saint James:
Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration. (James 1: 17)
Simeon's reference in the Nunc Dimmitis to Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ being "a light to the revelation of the Gentiles" is responsible for the blessing of candles before Mass this day. As Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is indeed the Light of the World, He is symbolized by the lighting of blessed candles, which must be used in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and are used in the Sacrament of Baptism and in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. A candle must be lit when a priest is administering Holy Communion during a sick call. The red Vigil Lamp that is situated near Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ's Real Presence in a tabernacle symbolizes the bright, burning nature of the love of Love Incarnate, Love Crucified and Resurrected, that burns for us so brightly in the Eucharist. The Light of the World means to warm us with His bright radiance, helping us to find our way back to Him through His true Church by persevering until our dying breaths in states of sanctifying grace.
Blessed candles are made of beeswax, the purity of which symbolizes Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ's flesh, born of the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The wick symbolizes Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ's soul. The flame represents Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ's Sacred Divinity. The blessed candles we receive today are meant to remind us that we must bear the Light of the World to others, that we must be so cleansed by the frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance and the worthy reception of Holy Communion that others will see in us the Light of Christ at all times, certainly in times of difficulties and crosses, but perhaps even more importantly in the ordinary circumstances of daily living when the temptations are many to surrender to selfishness and prideful impatience. We are called to be the Light of Christ in our lives even as we know that we will be opposed for our efforts to bear Him into an unbelieving world and to bear Him in the midst of an ecclesiastical situation where so many Catholics really do not know Who He is or what He has deposited to be taught until His Second Coming in glory without any change or modification.
The Holy Family awaits us today, as they do every day, in Holy Mass. We must make every effort to get ourselves to the offering of the Immemorial Mass of Tradition this great feast day as it is offered at the hands of a true bishop or a true priest who makes no concessions to conciliarismi or to the nonexistent "legitimacy" of its false shepherds. How wonderful this is to contemplate. Our Blessed Mother herself, who was foretold by Simeon that a Sword of Sorrow would pierce her own heart, told us that her Divine Son wanted to institute devotion to her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart as a "last remedy" for sinful men. As we pray our Rosaries of reparation today, therefore, we need to meditate upon how we have offended the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus by means of our sins, asking for all the graces that are necessary to offend these matchless hearts of love no more and to make amends for our sins and those of the whole world.
Although not a Holy Day of Obligation, this great feast summarizes the humility of Our Lady, the silent obedience of Saint Joseph, the patience of Simeon, the offering of the Son to Father as a foreshadowing of Calvary, and our own obligation to present Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and Him Crucified to everyone we encounter no matter what it might cost us. It cost Our Lady Seven Swords of Sorrow to be thrust through her Immaculate Heart as her Divine Son lived His life on earth and then ransomed us from the power of sin and eternal death. We should consider it an honor and a singularly unmerited privilege to have some share in the work of the redemption of souls, starting with our own.
Dom Prosper Gueranger provided us a wonderful summary of the marvelous events that close the Christmas season today as we prepare to enter into the desert of Lent in eleven days from now:
The Holy Spirit has led us to the Temple, as he did Simeon. There we see the Virgin-Mother, offering at the Altar her Son, who is the Son of God. We are filled with admiration at this fidelity of the Child and his Mother to the Law; and we feel in our hearts a desire also to be presented to our Creator, who will accept our homage as he accepted that offered him to his Divine Son. Let us at once put ourselves in those same holy dispositions, which filled the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The salvation of the world has this day gained ground; let the work of our individual sanctification also advance. From this feast forward, the mystery of the Infant-God will no longer be put before us by the Church as the special object of our devotion; the sweet season of Christmas will, in a few hours, have left us, and we shall have to follow Jesus in his combats against our enemies. Let us keep close to our dear King. Let us ever keep Simeon's spirit, and follow our Redeemer, walking in his footsteps, who is our Light. Let us love this Light and merit, by our fidelity in using it, that it may unceasingly shine upon us.
May it be the case that Our Lady, who presented her Divine Son, in the Temple this day of her own Purification, will present us before her Divine Son at the moment of our Particular Judgments after a lifelong effort to cooperate with the graces that flow forth from her hands to bear a witness to her Son as He has revealed Himself through His true Church, praying as many Rosaries each day as our states-in-life permit.
Our Lady said to Saint Dominic de Guzman in the year 1208,
"One day, through the Rosary and the Scapular, I will save the world."
May it be our privilege to be presented by Our Lady herself to her Divine Son at the moment of our Particular Judgments as her children who were faithful to her Most Holy Rosary and clothed with the mantle of her Brown Scapular during our lives and the hour of our deaths!
A blessed Feast day of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary to you all.
Viva Cristo Rey!
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, pray for us.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us.
Saint Brigid of Kildare, pray for us.
See also: A Litany of Saints