From the Archbishop's desk: February 2018

By Archbishop Malcolm McMahon

February is a dull month as it can be wintry and grey, and we can get miserable. This was not always so. In the ancient world, February was a time for ritual cleansing, for preparation. The word 'February' comes from a Latin word for purging or purification which meant more than bodily cleanliness. Outward purification for the Romans signified an inner cleansing in preparation for the rites of spring: thanksgiving for surviving the winter, for the birth of livestock, and an expression of hope for a good harvest after the new planting.
Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary was purified in the Temple – as a ritual washing following childbirth – and Jesus was presented with offerings of turtle doves to comply with Jewish law for the first-born son. Jesus was also revealed, of course, as a light for the nations, a beacon of hope for mankind.
In our present culture, ritual cleansing doesn't have much of a place. That is probably because it precedes prayer or a religious act, and people don't seem to pray much these days. Muslims wash their hands and feet before prayer, but they are not the only ones. We Catholics have preserved the act of blessing ourselves with water as we enter church to remind us of our baptism. This is none other than ritual cleansing to prepare us for worship and prayer, and the good things to come. So February is not such a dull month after all: it is full of hope.