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Purifying Ecclesiastical Decrepitude

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Sermon for the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The church building is showing its age. The white plaster is greying and cracking in places. The woodwork is riddled with woodworm. The brasswork is dull and without lustre. The altar frontals are fading and getting a bit tatty. The ornaments are covered in dust. The corners of the ceiling are a bit mouldy. The floor needs a good sweep. It all looks tired and faded and a bit miserable.

This would seem an accurate picture for many, especially in those places where the congregation has dwindled and aged to the point where the regular upkeep of the building is becoming progressively more and more difficult. It’s all rather sad and discouraging. But what can you do?


The aged Simeon probably feels the same way. His body has aged. His legs hurt. His eyes are not as keen as they once were. Here he is, about to perform a ritual that he has performed hundreds of times before, for people who are probably just going through the motions. Jerusalem is controlled by the Romans who care nothing for God. The Jewish Religion is controlled by a ruling elite of Scribes and Pharisees who are more interested in the tassels on their fine robes than worshipping God in their hearts. Everything seems a bit worn out, baggy and a bit loose at the seams.

And yet despite all this, with his customary professionalism and kindness, aged Simeon spies the young couple entering into the temple with their little boy and prepares the rite of purification for this young mother.

And the house is suddenly filled with glory. Why?


There are many remarkable things about Mary and Jesus which we should love to think upon. That’s what the church year is for so that we can pay close attention to all those little things Our Lord does for us and what Our Lady points out to us. The purification of Mary is very closely associated with the events of the Epiphany of the Lord in one particular aspect.

Our Lord goes through rituals that are unnecessary for Him. He is circumcised, but He is already a child of God. He is given presents by Magi but doesn’t need them. He is baptised by St John but has not sinned. He attends a wedding and, even though His time has not yet come, turns water into wine. Our Lady comes forward for purification and yet is already pure. If these are all unnecessary, why do Our Lord and Lady go through with them?

You might say that these are acts of humility and obedience, and you would be right. You might say that these allow Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ to identify with us fallen human beings, and you would be right. There is one more thing – purification.


In His Circumcision, Our Lord takes the whole Law of God upon Himself and liberates us from its letter. He prefers us to circumcise our hearts. The Law is purified by Christ’s obedience so that we can be justified by Faith.

In His visitation by the Magi. Our Lord receives gifts of gold for His Kingship, frankincense for His priesthood and myrrh for His burial. In so doing, He purifies our understanding of kingship, of priesthood and even Death itself.

In His Baptism, Our Lord purifies the waters of repentance into waters of incorporation into the Church and membership with Him. He purifies Baptism so that the outward sign receives its inward grace.

In turning water into wine, Our Lord purifies marriage so that a man and a woman may receive grace to live a married life as God intended it as the necessity of water to live is transformed into the richness of God’s love in good wine.

In presenting herself for purification, Our Lady is shown that through her purification, God purifies the Church, giving Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of God’s people, Israel. For God has promised, “I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.”

For Simeon, the general decay of his body is transformed by the truth of God’s promise. He can die in peace but he realises the glory of resurrection and the restoration of that which is falling to bits. All he has done is kept faithful to God as the light fades and things go stale, and his faith is rewarded by this vision of glory in the face of the little tiny Messiah.


And so it is with us. Things look as if they are falling to bits. Institutions are crumbling; church buildings are falling into disrepair; Society is losing sight of what is right and wrong. We need just to let it happen – hard to do, but this is how we make our sacrifice. God will shake, God will judge and God will purify

Our job is simple: we continue. We continue to hold the faith. We continue to say the old prayers. We continue to proclaim the same Gospel as was first proclaimed in the Resurrection of Our Lord. We continue to believe the old faith as the Ancient Creeds express. We continue to fight for God’s eternal law of love for all human beings. We continue to hold the same hope that the first martyrs held. We continue to do what we can for the love of God. Like Simeon, we shall see our lives, our homes, our churches and our societies purified and glorified in the Light of Lights.

And we, too, will depart in peace and then see the Glory of God Himself eternally.

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