The Presentation

The Presentation

The Presentation of Jesus in the temple, traditionally 40 days after his birth, was celebrated two days after my return to the Beguinnage. The Nunc dimittis, the famous words of Simeon at the Presentation of Jesus, are incorporated into the Compline service sung every night in monasteries around the world.  I sang the Nunc dimittis in English as a little girl during evening church services and even at Girl Scout camp. On this day the light of Christ is celebrated here at the Beguinnage; candles are lighted including this year the large candles of our fifty year Jubileum sisters. We sisters and the faithful  processed from the lovely ancient Mary statue, where Compline ends each night, carrying lighted candles through the church singing Ecce Dominus. The message is clear: we are to become the light of Christ in the world, with God’s help to be sure! Now usually the daily Mass proceeds  seamlessly without a homily but this day the priest motioned us to be seated. He obviously had a few words to say for this feast day. His exhortation, I guess the correct English word, was that  we should present ourselves to God, not just go through the motions of the Presentation service. Over the altar of this Beguinnage church is an enormously arresting but not overpowering painting by Jacob Van Oost the Elder. The painting is the  embodiment of Presentation. The wealthy, noble Elizabeth in a richly adorned robe with long ermine cape is on her knees gazing longingly and lovingly at no one but Jesus crucified. She is obviously forsaking the riches and delights of the world and presenting herself completely to her beloved. There is no mistaking it! The other persons in the painting when you actually begin to notice them are looking discreetly away or in one case, directly at you challenging you to ask yourself, “Where you are in this intimate rendering?” Elizabeth is the quintessential example of presentation and she is there at the altar every day in this Beguinnage church. I dare say, many sisters and Beguines have gazed daily at this painting over the centuries and now me included. Sisters bow before the altar directly under this painting probably  20 times a day…. How could the message not be impressed upon our hearts? Present yourself to God. May it be so with this sister, priests and monastics around the world and  all who pass through this church who gaze upon the presentation of this gift.

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