“Christ is the Light of the nations.” This is the opening line of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, one of the fruits of the twenty-first ecumenical council, Vatican II. This sentence represents two millennia of the Church’s self-reflection on her identity and mission in the world. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is the light of the nations.
These words are taken from the mouth of Blessed Simeon, that aged prophet who was led by the Spirit into the temple at the time of Jesus’s presentation. This same Simeon had been promised by God that “he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord” (Luke 2:26).
One can only imagine the astonishment of Mary and Joseph as their newborn child is whisked away from them and lifted up in the frail arms of the worn seer. Then and there Simeon prophesies to all in the Temple:
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
St Luke recounts that there was another ancient prophetess in the Temple. Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. For eighty-four long years she had awaited the fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi. “And the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in” (Malachi 3:1).
The evangelist tells us that she “departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” For a full lifetime she had waited and now suddenly He comes. And He comes in the form of a small and indigent child. In these prophets of Israel the whole House of Jacob recognizes its Savior and foretells the salvation of the Gentiles, of the nations.
On Tuesday, February 2nd, we celebrated this great mystery here at Notre Dame Seminary. The chapel, illuminated by the light of myriad candles, was a powerful image of the prophecy which Simeon uttered and which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council made the clarion call of our age: “Christ is the Light of the Nations.”