21Nov 21 November 2013. Thursday, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Zech 2:14ff. “Rejoice, O daughter Zion! For I will come and dwell in your midst.”  

Mt 12:46ff. The real family of Jesus are those who take his Gospel to their hearts.

First Reading: Zechariah 2:14-17

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst, says the Lord. Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.

The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem. Be silent, all people, before the Lord; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

Gospel: Mt 12:46-50

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to 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.”

A beautiful, devotional feast

Many of the celebrations in honour of Mary are squarely based on Gospel texts. St Luke tell of her acceptance of God’s invitation to be the mother of the Savior at the Annunciation. We know of her maternity and of her faithfulness to her son, Jesus, even, as St John reports, standing at the side of his cross. But the Evangelists tells us nothing about Mary’s early life. The inspired Word makes no mention of the event celebrated each year on November 21st, her Presentation in the Temple. This devotion is testified by a tradition that comes from a century after her life. The Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple is told in a delightful Apocryphal text, the Protoevangelium of James, which may be dated around the year 200 AD. (click for a translation of the Protoevangelium)

This fictitious book offers a devotional account of Mary’s early life, clearly drawing on the Gospel stories of Christ’s infancy as a model. Her father, Joachim, wishes to bring the child Mary to serve in the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, but his wife Anna gets him to wait until Mary is three years old, before having her live far from her parents. When the day arrived, a group of Hebrew virgins goes with Mary to the Temple, with lamps burning. There the priest receives her, blesses her, and proclaims, “The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the children of Israel.”

Mary was placed on the third step of the Temple, where she “danced with joy and all the house of Israel loved her.” The story goes on to describe how she continued in the Temple, living in the service of the Lord, while her parents returned home, glorifying God. The focus of the book is clear: from her earliest childhood Mary was completely dedicated and given over to God. It is to this beautiful apocryphal account that we owe the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady.

In the sixth century the Emperor Justinian built a splendid church dedicated to Mary in the Temple area in Jerusalem. This basilica was dedicated in 543 but was destroyed by the Persians within a century. Several church Fathers such as Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (+730) and his contemporary John Damascene, preached homilies on this feast, referring to Mary as God’s special flower which was being nurtured for better things. “She was planted in the House of God, nourished by the Holy Spirit and kept her body and soul spotless to receive God in her bosom. He who is all-holy rests among the holy.”

In the Eastern Church the Presentation is one of the twelve great feasts of the liturgical year. For the Easterns it celebrates the same belief that we in the West have focussed even more sharply through the feast of the Immaculate Conception: Mary’s unique holiness. It appears that by the ninth century at least, the Presentation was treasured in the monasteries of southern Italy influenced by the Byzantine tradition. It is recorded that it was celebrated in Avignon, France in 1373. Its wider acceptance in the West was slow and only in the year 1472 did Pope Sixtus IV extend its celebration to the universal Church.