Friday 21 November 2008

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

On the 21st November, Western Catholics keep the feast of the Presentation of Mary, the event of Mary’s presentation by her parents Anne and Joachim at the temple in Jerusalem, where she would be consecrated to God as an act of thanksgiving for her birth.

The event is not recorded in the New Testament, but rather in the Protoevangelium of James; an apocryphal text that fills in the detail of Mary’s birth, early life and the birth of the Saviour. Since the origins of this feast lie outside of canonical scripture, its observance is regarded as a pious tradition. After spreading from the East and establishing itself at the Papal chapel in 1372, the feast was suppressed by Pius V, reintroduced by Sixtus V, elevated to a Greater Double under Clement VIII and made a Memorial by Paul VI. The association of Mary’s entry into a community of consecrated virgins at the Temple has also marked this feast as Pro Orantibus day, a day of prayer for cloistered religious, who live a life totally dedicated to God in prayer, silence and concealment.

Despite the apocryphal origin of this feast, the presentation of Mary is not at variance with our encounter with her in scriptural events: the Annunciation, the Nativity… Mary at Cana….Mary at the Cross. Artistic representations of the Presentation in Eastern Iconography or the lavish illustrations found in Medieval breviaries show Mary as a tiny figure, dwarfed by her parents and by the high priest waiting to receive her at the Temple steps. She is Mary alone, a small child of perhaps three years, probably frightened but ultimately trusting, in the way that children naturally are, as she climbs the temple stairs. This image of Mary echoes that of the Annunciation, when Our Blessed Lady, no doubt threatened by uncertainty and perturbed by the appearance of an angel, resigned herself totally to the will of God; accepting with humility and grace an uncertain future with simple faith. In the presentation, the child Mary makes a wordless fiat in true discipleship of her Son, who said : except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Mary’s Presentation of herself to God’s service so early in life is like our prayer of Morning Offering, when we pledge to offer to God all the prayers and deeds, joys and sorrows of the day to come, although we don't yet know what they will be.

This feast is a day on which to be consecrated anew, to be edified by the example of Our Lady, and to pray fervently to God, in union with his Blessed Mother and all our brothers and sisters in religious communities, who pray with us, for us, in the unity of one spiritual body.

Collect: O God, Who didst will that this day the ever blessed Virgin Mary, dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost, should be presented in the temple: grant, we beseech Thee, that through her intercession, we may be worthy to be presented in the temple of Thy glory. Through our Lord.
-1962 Daily Missal

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