Why did Pope John Paul II institute this day in the Church?
“When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” – Luke 2:22-24
Celebrated 40 days after Christmas, the feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple commemorates the offering of Jesus to God by his parents. It is the day when the Messiah also comes to meet the faithful. Through his mouth Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reveals that Jesus is the “light of revelation to the Gentiles.” And with these prophetic words the old man prophesies the great offering of Jesus to his Father, the cross and his final victory over death (Lk 2:32-35).
Thus, on this day at the Temple, the “Consecrated One of the Father,” who came into the world to save all mankind, was presented. His mother Mary is associated with Him in the same movement of oblation for the salvation of the world.
So, the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is an eloquent icon of the plenary gift of oneself to God for all those, who by means of the evangelical counsels are called to reproduce in the Church and in the world, the “characteristic features of Christ – poor, chaste and obedient.” (St. John Paul II, Post –Synodal Apostolic Exortation)
The Virgin Mother offering her child to God is an excellent representation of the attitude of the Church, which continues to offer her sons and daughters to the Father by associating them with the unique oblation of Christ, cause and model of all consecration in the Church.
And just like the prophetess Anna, who like Simeon awaited the Messiah and watched over the Temple, the primary vocation of those who wholeheartedly follow Christ is to be in communion with Him, listening to his Word and praising God with humility and constancy. Then their life can echo in the hearts of men.
St. John Paul II wished “this experience be extended to the whole Church, so that the celebration of the World Day for Consecrated Life may gather consecrated persons together with other faithful in order to sing with the Virgin Mary the marvels, which the Lord accomplishes in so many of his sons and daughters” (St. John Paul II, The Message of the Holy Father John Paul II For the First World Day for Consecrated Life, 1997). Furthermore, the pontiff wished to show all that this feast celebrating the vocation of God’s holy people is wholly dedicated to them.
What is the purpose of the World Day for the Consecrated Life?
St John Paul II saw a threefold purpose to this celebration:
In the first place, it answers the intimate need to praise the Lord more solemnly and to thank him for the great gift of consecrated life” (St. John Paul II, ”The Message of the Holy Father John Paul II for the First World Day for Consecrated Life”, 1997). J
Just as Jesus in his obedience and dedication to the Father is a living parable of the “God-with-us,” so the concrete dedication of consecrated persons to God and to their brethren is an eloquent sign for today’s world of the presence of God. “This is the first service that the consecrated life offers to the Church and to the world,” emphasized His Holiness Benedict XVI on February 2, 2006. Consecrated persons are like watchmen among the People of God who perceive and proclaim the new life present in our history.
In the second place, this day is intended to promote a knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God,” explained St. John Paul II in 1997, during the first World Day for Consecrated Life. This is how he announced this to the consecrated men and women on February 2, 2000:
“Eschatological witness is part of your vocation. The vows of poverty, obedience and chastity for the kingdom of God are a message that you proclaim to the world about man’s ultimate destiny. It is a valuable message: Those who vigilantly await the fulfillment of Christ’s promises are able to bring hope to their brothers and sisters who are often discouraged and pessimistic about the future.” And he added: “It is (consecrated life) thus a special and living memory of his being Son, who makes of his Father his only love – his virginity; who finds in him his exclusive richness – his poverty; and who has, in the will of his Father, the ‘food’ by which he is nourished – his obedience. (cf. Jn 4:34)
“This form of life, embraced by Christ and made present particularly by consecrated persons, is of great importance for the Church, called in every member to live the same upward striving toward God who is All, following Christ in the light and power of the Holy Spirit. In contemplating the gift of consecrated life, the Church contemplates her own intimate vocation of belonging only to her Lord … The life of special consecration, in its many forms, is thus at the service of the baptismal consecration of all the faithful.”
The third motive concerns the consecrated persons directly: “They are invited to celebrate together solemnly the marvels, which the Lord has accomplished in them,” explained St. John Paul II, during the first World Day for the Consecrated Life. “They are invited to reflect on the gift received and “to discover by a more illumined faith the rays of divine beauty spread by the Spirit in their way of life, and to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world.”
Fruits for the mission
In a world that is often agitated and distracted, where we are taken up by so many responsibilities, there is great urgency on this annual World Day, that the consecrated life show itself ever more “full of joy and of the Holy Spirit,” that it forge ahead dynamically in the paths of mission, that it be backed up by the strength of lived witness, because “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (St. Paul VI “Apostolic Exhortations of His Holiness Pope Paul VI To the Episcopate, to the Clergy and to All the Faithful of the Entire World”, 1975 N°41).
By instituting the World Day for the Consecrated Life on the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord at the Temple, St. John Paul II gave his support to the mission of the Church. Firstly to its mission in the world, so that all those who still live in the ignorance of Christ can be approached by those who by their total dedication can attest that Christ is the only Son, sent by the Father. The pope highlighted that a new evangelization was made possible and effective thanks to the people who, self-evangelized, “can present the Gospel in its fullness and reveal the maternal face of the Church, serving men and women of our times.”
The prayer of Benedict XVI for the consecrated men and women
In this way, St. John Paul II was also assured of having brought concrete support to the pastorals of local churches. “They can sometimes be tempted like Martha, to consider the mission especially in many things to do and which, of course, must be done. But this day reminds everyone that it is in choosing Mary’s lot that we can bear abundant fruit in Lord’s vineyard. May the Virgin Mary, who had the sublime privilege of presenting to the Father his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as a pure and holy oblation, obtain for us that we may constantly be open and welcoming in face of the great works which He does not cease to accomplish for the good of the Church and of all of humanity,” he concluded.
And on February 2, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI recited this prayer addressed to the consecrated men and women:
May the Lord renew every day in you
and all consecrated persons
the joyful response to his free and faithful love.
Like lighted candles
shine always and everywhere
with the love of Christ light the world.
May the Most Holy Mary, the consecrated woman,
help you to live fully your vocation and mission
in the Church for the salvation of the world.