21Nov 21 November, 2019. The Presentation of Our Lady

1st Reading: Zechariah 2:14-17

Rejoice, O daughter Zion! For I will dwell in your midst

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.

Responsorial: from Luke 1:46-55

Response: The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name

My soul glorifies the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God, my saviour.
He looks on his servant in her nothingness;
henceforth all ages will call me blessed.
The Almighty works marvels for me.
Holy his name! (R./)

His mercy is from age to age,
on those who fear him.
He puts forth his arm in strength
and scatters the proud-hearted. (R./)

He casts the mighty from their thrones
and raises the lowly.
He fills the starving with good things,
sends the rich away empty. (R./)

He protects Israel, his servant,
remembering his mercy,
the mercy promised to our fathers,
to Abraham and his sons for ever. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 12:46-50

The real family of Jesus are those who take his Gospel to heart

While Jesus 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 devotion built on Gospel stories

Many of our devotions honouring Mary are firmly based on Gospel texts. But the Gospels say nothing about Our Lady’s childhood. They don’t report what we celebrate today, November 21st — her Presentation in the Temple. This belief comes from long after her lifetime. The story of her childhood is told in the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal text dated around the year 200 AD.  This imaginative story describes Mary’s early life, seen as a preparation for the Gospel.

Her father, Joachim, tells his wife Anna that he wishes to bring Mary to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem. Anna makes him wait until the child is three years old, before bringing her to the temple. When the day arrived, a group of chaste Hebrew girls accompany Mary, with lamps burning. The high priest receives her, blesses her, and gives her the kiss of welcome. He declares, “The Lord has magnified your name… In you, God will bring redemption to the children of Israel.” When Mary was placed on the third step of the Temple, she danced with joy and “all of Israel loved her.” It then tells how she continued in the Temple, living in the service of the Lord, while her parents returned home, happy.

The focus of the book is clear: from earliest childhood Mary was completely dedicated to God. It is to this  account that we owe the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady. In the 6th century the Emperor Justinian dedicated a splendid church to Mary in the Temple area in Jerusalem. This basilica was 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.

The inspiration of today’s feast is clear. Because Mary was totally at the service of  God, she would become a greater “temple” than the magnificent sanctuary in Jerusalem. As the temple in Jerusalem was the special house of God,  Mary would be so in an even greater way, when she carried the Lord in her womb and gave him birth among us. God dwelt in her, through Jesus, because she was completely open to God’s presence from infancy.

The Gospels report her maternal faithfulness to her son, Jesus, even to standing beneath his cross as he died. She is the prime example of doing the will of our Father in heaven.  We too are called to do the will of God so that we can carry grace to others. Writing to the  Corinthians, Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple?” We can best honour Mary by trying to do the will of the Father and so be “temples of God” as she was. She is the prime example of one “who does the will of my Father in heaven.” We too are called to do the will of the Father so that we can bring God’s grace to others. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple?” We can best honour Mary by trying always to do the will of the Father and so be “temples of God” as she was.

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