The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple
(Read another article here on Mary's Presentation.)
History. This Marian Feast was introduced first in the East and then, later, in the West. In 1372 Pope Gregory XI granted it to the Papal Curia, which celebrated it the first time at Avignon. The Feast spread rapidly throughout the Church, and in 1585 the Presentation of Our Lady was made a universal Feast under Pope Sixtus V. Pope Clement VIII elevated it to the rank of double major and re-elaborated its Office.
Liturgical writers call our attention to the fact that Holy Mother Church does not intend merely to honor the fact of the Blessed Virgin Mary's abode in the Temple; rather, She especially wants us to consider Our Lady's virtues as a child and as a young girl.
Her Holy Purpose. The Blessed Virgin Mary consecrated herself to God at the very dawn of her existence. Already in her first years, then as a child and as a young girl, she was a living lesson to all girls and young women. She was a beautiful portrait of modesty, of prudence, of obedience, of faith, of kindness, and of charity. She was exemplary for her spotless purity, her self-denial, her temperance in speech, and her moderation in food and repose, so as to dedicate the greater part of her time to the meditation of holy things.
According to many authors, there was a type of feminine institute at the Temple of Jerusalem for girls and young women. The maidens served in the Temple and received a good formation, spiritual and practical.
Three reasons, in particular, accounted for the large number of girls at the Temple: 1. Their parents desired to remove them from dangers and to provide for their proper formation. 2. Their innocence would thus be protected. 3. They could attend to the making of sacred vestments, to the cleaning of the house of God, and to prayer for their people.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, also, when still an infant (according to the ancient meaning of that word), was presented to the Temple by her parents, and offered to God in the 'morning' of her life: "The stream of the river maketh the City of God joyful: the most High hath sanctified His own tabernacle. God is in the midst thereof, it shall not be moved: God will help it in the morning early. " (Psalm 45:5-6) The 'City of God' of which the Psalmist speaks is none other than the young Virgin, soon-to-be Mother of God.
The Lord God willed to prepare this tender Virgin for the great Mystery to come, for the sublime dignity of Mother of God, and His grace rendered her ever more perfectly suited for it. He had already made her Immaculate and superior in sanctity even to the Angels. But from the time of her Conception until her fourteenth year, she continually increased in sanctity and in grace until she was deemed worthy of receiving the only-begotten Son of God. The Eternal Father prepared this Chalice, this Pyx of purest gold, to deposit in it His Son, the living Host. The Abbot Robert wrote: "In her first sanctification Mary was similar to the dawn, in the Conception of her Son she was similar to the light; in death she was similar to the sun." Thus does he describe the lifelong increase of grace and supernatural holiness with which the Immaculate Virgin was adorned.
The Event. The Infant Mary was taken to the Temple at the age of three years, and according to the holy Bishop and martyr St. Evodius (successor of St. Peter at Antioch), she spent ten years there.
St. Francis de Sales beautifully describes her journey to the Temple: "When Mary went to the Temple to consecrate herself to God she was carried part of the way by St. Joachim and St. Anne, and she walked the rest of the way. Of course, her parents always helped her and put her down only when the road was smooth and level. The heavenly little child would then hold out her hands to them so that they would hold her up lest she stumble. When the road became rough, St. Joachim and St. Anne would again take her in their arms, and then allow her to her walk again after a while. They did this not so much that they might rest--for them, it was an ineffable delight to carry her--but, rather, for the great pleasure they experienced at seeing her walking alone."
According to St. Germanus of Constantinople, the Priest who received the little Virgin from the hands of her parents was St. Zachary, the future father of St. John the Baptist, Precursor of the Messiah. And, trembling with joy, Mary entered the Temple. She was young in age but perfect in grace and unique in sanctity. St. John Damascene exclaims, "The heavenly Child, transplanted from her paternal home to the holy Temple, became, so to speak, the home of all virtues."
She diligently studied the sacred books from which she derived food for her faith and nourishment for her piety. She was always absorbed in her God; she meditated upon Divine truths with such fervor and clearness of mind that she even remembered them in her sleep.
Besides studying the sacred books, Mary learned in the Temple to weave wool and linen, and to work with gold and silk.
Her bearing was serious and distinguished. She spoke wisely and listened attentively. She was always affable and respectful with all, and her every action bore the imprint of a truly Divine grace. "For this reason," writes St. Bridget, "the Holy Ghost was always close to Mary, like the vigilant bee hovering over a rosebud from early morning, waiting for the sun's rays to cause it to open."
We can imagine the Immaculate Virgin Mary chanting the Psalms and joining in the public prayers. How devout her prayer must have been! The Angels of Heaven certainly must have descended to contemplate her. We can imagine her among her companions at recreation: what charity, kindness, and goodness she must have shown! She was a fragrant violet who left behind the heavenly perfume of her virtues wherever she went.
The Breviary Account. "Joachim was joined in marriage to Anne, a most virtuous and praiseworthy woman. Like the first Anne, who was tried by the affliction of sterility but bore Samuel through prayer and a vow, Joachim's wife bore the Mother of God with supplications and a promise, that not even in this might she be different from any of the most illustrious women. Thus, grace (for the name Anne means grace) gave birth to the Lady (for the name Mary means Lady). The Blessed Virgin truly became the Lady of all creatures, by becoming the Mother of the Savior.
"She first saw the light of day in Joachim's house… and later was brought to the Temple. Thus planted in the house of God and nourished by the Holy Ghost, she, like a fertile olive tree, became the sanctuary of every virtue. Her heart was entirely free from the desires of this life and of the flesh. She preserved virginity of soul and of body, as was befitting the one who was to receive God into her womb.
"Such was Mary that her life is a model for all. If the reader will not be displeased, we shall demonstrate the truth of this statement, in order that whoever aspires to her reward may imitate her example. How many virtues sparkle in this one Virgin! She is a mystery of modesty, of intrepid faith, and of reverent piety. As a virgin, she lives at home; as a wife, she is all immersed in domestic cares; and as a mother, she accompanies her Son to the Temple. How many virgins she will help! How many she will embrace and lead to the Lord, saying: 'Behold the bride of my Son, the one who has always preserved herself His worthy and faithful spouse.'
"And what shall we say of her rigorous abstinence and numerous good works--abstinence which left nature's needs barely satisfied, and good works which almost seemed beyond the powers of nature? She took no respite from labor, and she fasted every day. When she did permit herself to take something, it was always the most ordinary food and only enough to sustain herself. She never took anything merely to satisfy her own tastes. She slept only out of necessity, never to gratify nature, and even while her body rested, her spirit remained alert, dwelling upon things she had read, or continuing thoughts that had been interrupted by sleep, or reviewing what she had already done, or planning what was yet to be done."
Her Readiness to Follow the Divine Vocation. This is one of the most admirable lessons of this mystery. See Our Lady, a tender child of three years, saying goodbye to her parents, quickly climbing the steps of the Temple without turning back, and delivering herself to the service of God in the sanctuary. What sublime detachment at the age of three! How Our Lady hastens to give herself up entirely to the service of God!
By an exceptional miracle, Mary had already at that age the use of reason. So deliberately, and quite aware of what she was doing, she hastened to the Temple. There was no danger whatsoever at home for her, for hers was a home of saints. She does not consider her tender age, at which she needs so much the care of a father and, far more, that of a mother. She does not stop at the thought of the sorrow which her absence will be to Her good parents. She is not preoccupied about the new kind of life she is going to undertake. All these considerations are those of merely human prudence. But she has heard the Voice of God and immediately flies to answer it. The sooner the better. All delay is too great for her. She climbs rapidly the flight of steps which leads to the Temple. What a beautiful lesson of fervor is given to us by that incomparable Handmaiden of the Lord. Do we try to serve God in the same manner? What do we do with God's inspirations? Do we follow them with the same promptitude? Do we, like Mary, throw ourselves into the arms of God, blindly, confidently, without any preoccupation, leaving to him the care of the rest? Oh, that we shall all reach that absolute detachment from everything, even from ourselves, from our selfish way of looking at things, from our own judgment, so that we desire and perform only what God wills, and as He wills it!
Let us Pray:
O beloved of God, most Holy Infant Mary, do thou hear and answer me. Thou didst consecrate thy entire self from thy very childhood to the love of thy God; obtain that I, during the time that I have yet to be on earth, may live for God alone. Do thou obtain for me from thy Divine Son the grace to follow His command to strip myself of all pride and to "convert and become as a little child," living always in the spirit of humble obedience
On this day, in union with thee, most Holy Infant Mary, I renounce all creatures and the spirit of the world, and I consecrate myself entirely to the love of my Lord. I also offer myself to thee, my Immaculate Queen, to serve thee always. Accept me as thy devoted servant in an especial manner, and obtain for me the grace to be faithful to thee and to thy Divine Son at every moment of my life, that I may one day praise thee and love thee for all eternity in Heaven. Amen.
Spiritual Fruits to be Drawn from our Reflection on this Feast:
1.This Feast was and is especially dear to educational institutions for both boys and girls. It should be even dearer, however, to all girls and young women, and to all those entrusted with their formation.
2. One of the most grave responsibilities of parents, educators, teachers, and priests is that of preserving the purity of young girls, forming them to piety, to study, to their role in the family, and to Christian virtues. If girls are well-behaved, devout, responsible to their family obligations and to their work, and desirous of acquiring virtue, we shall be rewarded with wonderful benefits to the family, to the community, to the school, and to society. But this takes docility on the part of the girls, if they are to be properly formed.
3. It is certain that in her education both at home and in the Temple, Mary was more a pupil of the grace of the Holy Ghost than of men. In fact, the Holy Ghost had taken complete possession of Mary in the Immaculate Conception. Hardly had she been betrothed to St. Joseph when the Angel appeared and greeted her with the words, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." St. Nicholas says that for an instructor, she had grace, and for a teacher, the Divine Word, Who formed her to be His Mother. From this we see how important it is for every soul to be docile to grace.