Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it – (Lk. 11:28)
This feast is associated with an event recounted not in the New Testament, but in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James. According to that text, Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, who had been childless, received a heavenly message that they would have a child.
In thanksgiving for the gift of their daughter, they brought her, when still a child, to the Temple in Jerusalem to consecrate her to God.
Later versions of the story (such as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary) indicate that Mary was taken to the Temple at around the age of three in fulfillment of a vow.
Tradition held that she was to remain there to be educated in preparation for her role as Mother of God.
The account of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple is principally based on the Protoevangelium of James, which has been dated by historians prior to the year 200 AD.
The story relates that in thanksgiving for the birth of their daughter Mary, Joachim and Anne decide to consecrate her to God, and bring her, at the age of three years, to the temple in Jerusalem.
Mary’s presentation in the temple draws parallels to that of the prophet Samuel, whose mother Hannah, like Anne, was also thought to be barren, and who offered her child as a gift to God at Shiloh. Mary remained in the Temple until her twelfth year, at which point Joseph was assigned to be her guardian.
According to Coptic tradition, her father Joachim died when Mary was six years old and her mother when Mary was eight. It is from this account that arose the feast of Mary’s Presentation.
The feast originated as a result of the dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary the New, built in 543 by the Byzantines under Emperor Justinian I near the site of the ruined Temple in Jerusalem.
This basilica was destroyed by the Sassanid Persians under Khosrau II after the Siege of Jerusalem (614).
The feast continued to be celebrated throughout the East, was celebrated in the monasteries of Southern Italy by the ninth century, and was introduced into the Papal Chapel in Avignon in 1372 by decree of Pope Gregory XI. The feast was included in the Roman Missal in 1472, but was suppressed by Pope Pius V in 1568.
As a result, it did not appear in the Tridentine Calendar. Pope Sixtus V reintroduced it into the Roman Calendar in 1585. Pope Clement VIII made this feast a greater double in 1597. The feast also continued as a memorial in the Roman Calendar of 1969.
Religious parents never fail by devout prayer to consecrate their children to the divine service and love, both before and after their birth. Some amongst the Jews, not content with this general consecration of their children, offered them to God in their infancy, by the hands of the priests in the Temple, to be lodged in apartments belonging to the Temple, and brought up in attending the priests and Levites in the sacred ministry.
It is an ancient tradition that the Blessed Virgin Mary was thus solemnly offered to God in the Temple in her infancy. The tender soul of Mary was then adorned with the most precious graces, an object of astonishment and praise to the angels, and of the highest complacence to the adorable Trinity.
The Father looking upon her as his beloved daughter, the Son as one chosen and prepared to become his mother, and the Holy Spirit as the darling spouse. Mary was the first who set up the standard of virginity; and, consecrating it by a perpetual vow to our Lord, she opened the way to all virgins who have since followed her example.
Sacred Scripture contains no text concerning the event commemorated. For something of a historical background one may consult the apocryphal works, particularly the Protoevangel of St. James.
After an angel had revealed her pregnancy, Anna is said to have vowed her future child Mary to the Lord. Soon after birth the infant was brought to the sacred precincts at which only the best of Israel’s daughters were admitted. At the age of three she was transferred to the temple proper. According to legend, here she was reared like a dove and received her nourishment from the hand of an angel.
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 our Baptism, God invites us to be open to his grace and dedicate ourself to him, as Mary did.
“Blessed are you, Mary, because you believed that the Lord’s words to you would be fulfilled, Alleluia.”
From the beginning of your life, dear Mary, you were dedicated to God. You willingly became a greater temple than any made by hands. God came to dwell in you in a marvelous manner and you were sanctified for your unique role in God’s saving work.
At the same time, your magnificenc enriches your earthly children. We too are temples of God and sanctified in order that we might enjoy and share in God’s saving work.
As we venerate the glorious memory of you, most holy Virgin Mary, grant, we pray, that through your intercession, we, too, may merit to receive from the fullness of God’s grace.
Dear Father God, may we, through the intercessory pleas made by our Mediatrix, the Blessed Virgin Mary, receive the goodness of your mercy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen