That’s it; I’m ready to go.”
This weekend, on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we hear similar words from St. Simeon.
He actually said, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Lk 2:29-32).
Simeon met the infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the Temple. This aged man had been promised by the Lord that he would not die “before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.” The Holy Family had come to present their newborn son to the Lord, as required by Jewish law. All firstborn males, human or animal, belonged to the Lord and had to be sacrificially redeemed from him. Mary and Joseph were doing this for Jesus when they met Simeon (and Anna, the prophetess) in the Temple. This is why our feast is called the Presentation.
Simeon met them, saying, “Now, Master, I can go. His words of faith, along with a sense of joy-filled completion have come to be known as the Nunc dimittis (for its first words in Latin).
One of three
It is also called the Canticle of Simeon and is one of the three canticles that appear in the Gospel of Luke. The other two are Mary’s Magnificat — spoken in Elizabeth’s presence — and the Canticle of Zachariah (known as the Benedictus). Zechariah uttered his words — which begin, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel” — after the gift of speech was returned to him at the naming of his own son, John the Baptist.
These three songs (canticles) are used daily by the church in the Liturgy of the Hours.
- The Canticle of Zechariah is used with Morning Prayer.
- The Magnificat is said every day at Evening Prayer.
- The Nunc dimittis is recited at Compline (Night Prayer).
Using the Nunc dimittis as the last prayer of the day reminds us that, young or old, we should all be ready for the Lord to dismiss us from service and call us home.
In the Western Catholic Church, St. Simeon is honored on Oct. 8. However, in Eastern Orthodox churches, his feast is on Feb. 3. There, he is also called St. Simeon the God-receiver. In that tradition, Simeon is known as a scholar of the Jewish scriptures.
The original Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek shortly before the birth of Christ. This translation was done in Alexandria, Egypt. At the time, there was a great library in Alexandria and Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus invited Jewish 70 scholars to come there to translate the original Hebrew into Greek. The tradition is that, among these 70 scholars was Simeon. The translation of the Hebrew Bible was later known by the Latin word for “70,” Septuagint (shortened as LXX), because of these 70 men.
According to the Orthodox tradition, Simeon received the task of translating the Book of Isaiah. And it is said that he was particularly struck by the prophet’s words to King Ahaz: “The virgin shall bear a son and name him Emmanuel (Is 7:14). Simeon was not certain how to translate the word: whether it should be “young woman” or “virgin.” He decided to translate it as “young woman,” since a virgin could not logically bear a son. However, the archangel Gabriel then appeared to him and instructed him to use the word: “virgin.” The angel also promised that Simeon would see this virgin and her child with his own eyes. (The promise of the Holy Spirit mentioned above seems to have come after this.)
As Simeon held the holy child in his arms, he uttered his famous canticle. He proclaimed that he was ready to go to the Lord. What else could he hope for? What else could top seeing the savior of the world and holding him in his own arms?
However, other non-scriptural traditions say that Zechariah lived for quite a while after that. For example, the Orthodox Church says that he lived to be 360 years old.
Also honored in the Orthodox tradition on Feb. 3 is Anna the Prophetess. In the Western Church, her feast day is Sept. 1.
On the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in 2014, Pope Francis honored both Simeon and Anna as being full of joy in the Lord.
“(The Presentation) is a meeting between the young, who are full of joy in observing the Law of the Lord, and the elderly who are full of joy in the action of the Holy Spirit,” the pope said. “It is a unique encounter between observance and prophecy, where young people are the observers and the elderly are prophets! In fact, if we think carefully, observance of the law is animated by the Spirit and the prophecy moves forward along the path traced by the Law.”
So, even though Simeon and Anna were approaching the end of their lives, both recognized that this meeting with the virgin and her holy child was only the beginning of the greatest chapter of salvation history.
Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica; the Catholic Encyclopedia; episcopalchurch.org; preces-latinae.org; orthochristian.com; the Orthodox Church in America at oca.org; and zenit.org