The Institute for Christian Formation
The Fifth Day Within the Octave of the
Nativity of the Lord: December 29
(optional memorial of St. Thomas Becket)
Today is the Fifth Day within the Octave of Christmas. The Gospel assigned to this day is Luke 2:22-35. This is the story of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. When Jesus was 40 days old, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as was the Jewish custom. While in the Temple, the Holy Family encountered Simeon, an old Jewish man filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he saw Christ. Simeon recognized that the infant Jesus was the Christ, took him in his arms, and blessed God with a beautiful song of praise (see Luke 2:29-32). This song is known as the “Canticle of Simeon,” or the “Nunc Dimittis.” “Nunc Dimittis” are the first two words of the Latin phrase “Nunc dimittis servum tuum," which means “Now let your servant depart” in English. This is
Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph, and then told Mary that her child would be a sign of contradiction, and that a sword would pierce her heart. (See Luke 2:34-36.)
Slowly read the Gospel passage for today (Luke 2:22-35). Which adult do you most identify with in this Gospel – Mary, Joseph, or Simeon? Why? What do you think went through Mary’s mind when she heard the prophesy Simeon spoke to her? What do you think Joseph thought when he heard Simeon’s words?
Simeon prophesies that Jesus will be a “light of revelation for the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32a). The Christmas carol, “Silent Night,” has beautiful words of brightness and light. Make this carol part of your Christmas Season celebration today. You can download it here.
On December 29 the Church also celebrates the feast day (an optional memorial) of Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr. Thomas was born in 1118 to a wealthy London merchant family. When Thomas was thirty-six years old, King Henry II appointed him as the Chancellor of England. Thomas eventually was named the Archbishop of Canterbury. But trouble brewed when there were disagreements between the King and the Church. Thomas stood up for the Church, which angered the King. Things became so bad that Thomas went into exile in France for several years. But he returned to England in 1170. On December 29, 1170, Thomas was at the Cathedral on his way to Vespers (Evening Prayer). Four knights from the King’s court confronted Thomas by surprise and murdered
James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Aged Simeon (Le vieux Siméon), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Frame: 21 1/4 x 16 1/4 x 1 1/2 in. (54 x 41.3 x 3.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.28 the first phrase in Simeon’s song of praise. Simeon’s canticle, or the “Nunc Dimittis,” is the Gospel canticle sung every night by Christians around the world as they celebrate Night Prayer, or Compline, one of the Hours in the Liturgy of the Hours. You can learn more about Compline here. Below, you can listen to the Nunc Dimittis: Robert Parsons (1530-72), “First Great Service: Nunc dimittis Voces Catabiles”, Barnaby Smith conducting.
We celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord each year on February 2, exactly forty days after we celebrate the Nativity of the Lord on December 25. It is a custom to keep a reminder of Christmas up through the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. When you take the rest of your Christmas decorations down at the conclusion of the Christmas Season (the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 13 in this Year of Grace 2013), keep the figures of the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – in a place of prominence in your home. You can also do this in your parish and school.
him. This historical event is the basis for T. S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral.” You can find this book at your local library.
Wymondham Abbey has a panel which features art focusing on the life of Thomas Becket. You can view this panel here. If you would like a more in-depth study of the murder of Thomas Becket and the Cathedral at Canterbury, you will find the one-hour video documentary below, "Cathedral: Murder at Canterbury,” to be helpful.