In Jerusalem lived the priest Simeon. He was a very aged, emaciated man with a short beard. He had a wife and three grown sons, the youngest of whom was already twenty years old. Simeon lived at the Temple. He used to go through a narrow, dark passage in the wall of the Temple to a little cell that was built in the thick walls. It had only one opening, from which he could look down into the Temple.
Here the old man knelt and prayed in ecstasy. An angel appeared before him, telling him to notice particularly the first Child that would, early the next morning, be brought for presentation. For that Child was the Messiah whom he had now awaited so long. The angel added that, after seeing the Child, he would die.
It was a beautiful sight: The little cell was so bright, and the old man so radiant with joy. He went home full of gladness, announced to his wife the good news of the angel, and then returned to his prayer. Anna, an elderly widow who lived in a Temple cell, was also rapt in prayer, and she, too, had a vision.
Early in the morning while it was still quite dark, the Holy Family went into the city and to the Temple accompanied by the old couple. The donkey was heavily loaded as if for a journey, and they had with them the basket of offerings. They first entered a court that was surrounded by a wall, and there the donkey was tied under a shed.
The Blessed Virgin and Child were received by an old woman and led along a covered walk up to the Temple. The old woman carried a light, for it was still dark. Here in this passage came Simeon, full of expectation to meet Mary.
He spoke a few joyous words with her, took the Child Jesus, pressed Him to his heart, and then hurried to another side of the Temple. Since the previous evening, when he had received the announcement of the angel, he had been consumed by the desire to see the Child. He had taken his stand in the women’s passage to the Temple, hardly able to await the coming of Mary and her Child.
The beautiful ceremony of presentation took place around an altar where the infant Jesus was laid in a basket cradle, alongside the offerings. When the most holy Child Jesus was laid on the altar in the basket cradle, an indescribable light filled the Temple. God was in that light, and the heavens opened up all the way to the Most Holy Trinity.
Several priests took part in the ceremony. One of them took the Child from the cradle, then lifted Him upward and toward the different parts of the Temple, praying all the while. Simeon next received the Child from him, laid the Babe in Mary’s arms, and prayed over her and the Child with words from a roll of parchment that lay near him on a desk.
Finally, two priests at the altar began a religious service accompanied by incense and prayers. When these ceremonies were ended, Simeon walked to where Mary was standing, took the Child into his arms and, entranced with joy, spoke long and loudly. When he finished, Anna was also filled with the Spirit and spoke a long time, as the Gospel tells us [Lk 2:25–38]. Mary shone like a rose. Her public offerings were indeed the poorest, but Joseph in private gave to Simeon and to Anna many little, yellow, triangular coins for the Temple’s use. They were intended primarily for the maidens belonging to it who were too poor to meet their own expenses.
Other children were presented at the Temple that day. All the children offered on that day received special grace, and some of them were among the infants of Bethlehem who were to be martyred.