In Israel the Law of Moses considered the first-born male child to belong to God. The same law considered the mother “unclean” after giving birth. For forty days she could not go out or touch anything sacred.
In order to “ransom” the child and “cleanse” the mother, a visit to the Temple was required, which involved a sacrificial offering of a lamb and a dove. If the family had limited means, the lamb could be exchanged for a dove. Thus, two doves were sufficient to fulfil the precept.
Forty days after the birth of Jesus, St. Joseph again helped his virgin wife onto the donkey – only now she carried the Creator of the universe in her arms. Slowly they made their way to Jerusalem to comply with the Mosaic Law. In their case, there was really no need for “ransom” or “cleansing”, Jesus being God, and Mary being a virgin before, during and after the birth of her divine Son (CCC 496-507, 510).
Yet, before the eyes of men, unaware of these circumstances, the holy family wished to give an example of humility and obedience by submitting to the age-old mandate. The fact that St. Joseph offered two doves is evidence of their poverty.
At that time there was a priest, a venerable old man named Simeon to whom the Holy Ghost had revealed that he would not die before seeing Christ the Redeemer (Luke 2:26).
As the holy family entered the temple, Simeon was inspired to meet them, and taking the Child in his arms exclaimed: “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation…” (Luke 2:29-30)
And turning to Mary Most Holy, he prophesized, “Behold this child is set for the fall and resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted…and thy own soul a sword shall pierce…” (Luke 2:34-35)
An eighty-four-year-old woman, the holy prophetess Anna, who lived in the temple, also gave thanks to God and spoke of Him to all present. (Luke 2:36-38)
The feast of the Presentation of the Lord was celebrated in the Church of Jerusalem as early as the mid-fourth century and probably earlier.
Throughout the history of the Church this feast has been called The Presentation, the Purification of Mary and also Candlemas, as, traditionally, candles were blessed on February 2.