- Saint of the Day
Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- November 21
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Image: Presentation of Mary in the Temple | Alfonso Boschi | photo by sailko
Saint of the day for november 21.
The Story of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Mary’s presentation was celebrated in Jerusalem in the sixth century. A church was built there in honor of this mystery. The Eastern Church was more interested in the feast, but it does appear in the West in the 11th century. Although the feast at times disappeared from the calendar, in the 16th century it became a feast of the universal Church.
As with Mary’s birth, we read of Mary’s presentation in the temple only in apocryphal literature. In what is recognized as an unhistorical account, the Protoevangelium of James tells us that Anna and Joachim offered Mary to God in the Temple when she was 3 years old. This was to carry out a promise made to God when Anna was still childless.
Though it cannot be proven historically, Mary’s presentation has an important theological purpose. It continues the impact of the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of the birth of Mary. It emphasizes that the holiness conferred on Mary from the beginning of her life on earth continued through her early childhood and beyond.
It is sometimes difficult for modern Westerners to appreciate a feast like this. The Eastern Church, however, was quite open to this feast and even somewhat insistent about celebrating it. Even though the feast has no basis in history, it stresses an important truth about Mary: From the beginning of her life, she was dedicated to God. She herself became a greater temple than any made by hands. God came to dwell in her in a marvelous manner and sanctified her for her unique role in God’s saving work. At the same time, the magnificence of Mary enriches her children. They—we—too are temples of God and sanctified in order that we might enjoy and share in God’s saving work.
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Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple recalls – according to the apocryphal gospels, the day on which Mary, while still a child, was brought to the temple in Jerusalem to be offered to God. The Church wants to emphasize not so much the historical event in itself, of which there is no trace in the Gospels, but the total gift that Mary made of herself, by listening: “ Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it” (Lk. 11:28). This experience prepared the young girl from Nazareth to become the “temple of the Son of God”.
The celebration of this feast dates back to the 6 th century in the East with the dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary the New built by the Emperor Justinian I near the ruins of the temple in Jerusalem. There is evidence that various monasteries in Italy celebrated the feast in the 9 th century. It was not until the 15 th century that it was included in the Roman Missal.
This is also the on which the Church celebrates the World Day of Cloistered Life, established by Pope Pius XII in 1953.
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother”. (Mt. 12:46-50)
Bonds of love, not of blood
For the Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the liturgy proposes the passage from Matthew that speaks about how we are “related” to Jesus. It is a relationship not formed by blood, but by imitation: “ Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother”. To become a member of “His family”, one must do so not by blood or belonging to a particular religion. Rather, it is a free and personal choice that translates into a commitment to do the will of the Father.
Mary, the first disciple
Confirming what has just been said, Jesus Himself said this in responding thus to a woman who was praising His Mother: “ ‘ Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.’ He replied, ‘Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.’ ” Mary is the woman who knows how to listen, who knows how to contemplate, who knows how to refer everything to her Son – “ Do whatever He tells you” (Jn. 2:5). Mary is the One who never abandoned her Son Jesus, not even along the way of the Cross. She “stood” under the Cross. She is a disciple who never abandons the Lord Jesus, who always “stands behind” Him.
Mary, model for Christians
All of this can help us imitate the Virgin Mary. Every Christian is called to look at Mary so as to learn from her, to entrust themselves to her intercession and to guard the “purity of the faith” against any idols that surround us.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
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The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
When Mary was asked to be the mother of the Savior, she was completely free to accept or reject the offer. Her response, “Let it be done to me,” was a great act of faith. Because she did not understand what was happening, she must have known that there would be difficulties ahead.
She replied yes to the angel's announcement and agreed to become the mother of Jesus, and the Church has declared Mary to be the Mother of God. Because she was the first to say yes to the Messiah, the Church has declared her to be the Mother of the Church.
The feast of the presentation of Mary dates back to the 6th century in the East and the 15th century in the West. It is based on an ancient tradition that says Mary was taken to the temple in Jerusalem when she was 3-years-old and dedicated to God. What we celebrate on this day is the fact that God chose to dwell in Mary in a very special way. In response, Mary placed her whole self at the service of God. Every moment since your Baptism, God invites you to be open to his grace and dedicate yourself to him, as Mary did.
from Saints and Feast Days , by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Presentation of Mary by Titian, 1538. Public Domain via Wikimedia.
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Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
November 21: Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary—Memorial
Liturgical Color: White
And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her. And her parents went down marveling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel. ~Protoevangelium of James
There are three “gospels” which are believed to have heavily influenced today’s memorial—the Protoevangelium of James, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary. The earliest of these writings was the Protoevangelium of James (also called the “Apocryphal Gospel of James”), which was most likely written sometime in the second century. It is not considered to be part of the inspired word of God, i.e., the canon of Scripture, because it does not appear to have actually been written by the Apostle James. Nonetheless, like many early Christian documents, this apocryphal gospel held great influence in the early Church. It is from this writing that the Church takes the traditional names of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s parents—Saints Joachim and Anne—since that is the only record of their names we have.
The Protoevangelium of James gives a detailed account of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s life. It details her Immaculate Conception, birth, presentation in the Temple, and her life in the Temple where she prayed continuously and was ministered to by angels until the age of twelve. The story continues with her miraculously arranged marriage to Saint Joseph, Jesus’ birth, Herod’s encounter with the Magi, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, and the martyrdom of Zechariah, Saint John the Baptist’s father. Though the Apocryphal Gospel of James does not contradict anything in the canonical Gospels, many more details are added that could be true.
At the time of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it was not uncommon for some children to be presented in the Temple at a young age, to be raised there, and to enter into service at the Temple. They assisted the priests and acted as servants of charity. Though every firstborn boy was ritually presented to the priest in the Temple eight days after birth so as to be consecrated to God, sometimes girls were also presented, but for the purpose of entering into the Temple’s service. Saint Alphonsus Liguori, an eighteenth-century Doctor of the Church who wrote extensively on the Blessed Virgin Mary, offers this description of her presentation in the Temple, which mirrors the aforementioned apocryphal gospel accounts:
Having barely reached the age of three years, the holy child Mary entreated her parents that she might be placed in the temple according to the promise they had made. The appointed day having arrived, the immaculate young Virgin left Nazareth with St. Joachim and St. Anne, accompanied by a host of angels attending that holy child destined to become the mother of their Creator…Upon their arrival at the temple in Jerusalem, the holy child turned to her parents. Kneeling, she kissed their hands, asked for their blessing, and then, without looking back, ascended the steps of the temple. There, renouncing the world and all it could offer her, she wholly offered and consecrated herself to God. From then on, Mary’s life in the temple was a continuous exercise of love, offering her entire being to her Lord…As a young virgin in the temple, Mary did nothing but pray, desiring to be the servant of the blessed Virgin chosen to be the mother of God ( Glories of Mary , On the Feast of the Presentation of Mary).
It is believed that this feast originated in the Eastern Byzantine liturgy around the sixth century at the time that Byzantine Roman Emperor Justinian I built a church in Jerusalem near the ruins of the Temple called the Basilica of Saint Mary the New. By the ninth century, several monasteries in the Latin Church began to observe this feast, and it was added to the Universal Church calendar in the fifteenth century.
In 1953, Pope Pius XII tied this memorial of the Presentation of Mary to an annual commemoration of the World Day of Cloistered Life. He did so because of the belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary was not only presented in the Temple as a child, she then lived out her childhood in constant prayer and solitude, becoming the most excellent model for those in the cloister.
In 1974, Pope Saint Paul VI wrote a beautiful apostolic exhortation, Marialis Cultus (For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary) , in which he speaks of the development of Marian devotion in the life of the Church. Regarding feasts like today’s, which come to us in part from apocryphal sources, he says, “There are still others [feasts] which, apart from their apocryphal content, present lofty and exemplary values and carry on venerable traditions having their origin especially in the East.”
As we celebrate the liturgical memorial of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, we especially honor the fact that, regardless of the lack of certainty of the historical details, the Blessed Virgin Mary lived a life of profound prayer and contemplation from her earliest years and continued to do so throughout her life. She always has been, and continues to be, the Immaculate One, the sinless Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the first contemplative, and one who dedicated her whole life to the service of the will of God. Even if the account of her presentation and childhood service in the Temple is not accurately represented in these early sources, the spiritual reality of her total dedication to the will of God throughout her life is an indisputable dogma of our faith.
As we ponder the early life and dedication of the Blessed Virgin Mary to God’s will today, reflect upon the fact that every child is capable of a profound faith and commitment to God’s will. For those who are entrusted with the guardianship and raising of children, allow your prayerful reflection on the holy life of Blessed Mary as a child to inspire you to help all young people imitate her profound faith and holiness.
Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary, you were conceived without sin and remained sinless throughout your life. With the perfection of every virtue and grace, you loved and served God even as a young child. Please pray for me, as I help to inspire young people in the ways of holiness, that I will never shy away from pointing them to you as a model and mediator of God’s grace. Most Holy Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
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The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a feast celebrated by both the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. It is the celebration of a presumed event of which there is no strict historical record – namely, that Mary, as a child, was presented to God by her parents. There is no mention of this event anywhere in the New Testament.
But it appears, for instance, in an apocryphal work called the Infancy Narrative of James . According to this story, Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, who had been without children, received a heavenly message that they would bear a child. When a girl was born, the parents went in thanksgiving to the Temple in Jerusalem to consecrate her to God. The story then says that Mary remained in the Temple until she reached puberty and then she was entrusted to Joseph who was to be her guardian.
Other versions of the story from works such as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary say that Mary was brought to the Temple about the age of 3 in fulfilment of a vow by her parents. And she was to remain there to be prepared for her future role as the Mother of God.
The celebration of the feast began with the dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary the New, which was constructed in 543 near where the Temple had been in Jerusalem. This basilica was later destroyed, but the feast had now spread all through the Eastern church. In the West, it was first adopted in 1373 by the papal chapel in Avignon (the city in the south of France where the papacy spent several years in exile). However, it was removed as a Church feast by Pope Pius V from the revised Roman Calendar in 1568. But it was then again restored as a feast in 1585 by Pope Sixtus VI.
Western art usually focuses on the figure of the little girl Mary climbing the steps of the Temple, having left her parents at the bottom, and approaching the Chief Priest and other Temple figures at the top of the steps. The Presentation was one of the traditional scenes illustrating the Life of the Virgin.
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