21 Nov The Presentation of Blessed Virgin Mary
Today is the feast day of The Presentation of Blessed Virgin Mary.
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
Today's festival is called the Presentation of Blessed Virgin Mary, because on this day Joachim and Anna, the holy parents of the Blessed Virgin, consecrated their little daughter to the divine service in the temple at Jerusalem, and Mary consecrated herself to the Almighty. At that time, there were two ways of consecrating children: one was ordained by the law, which required every male child to be offered to God, forty days, and every female child, eighty days after its birth. This ceremony was called the consecration of the child and the purification of the mother. The second kind of consecration was a voluntary self-oblation by which some persons devoted themselves to the Almighty. There were also many parents who either before, or immediately after their child's birth, consecrated it to the service of the Lord, sometimes for a few years, sometimes for life. To this end several separate dwellings had been erected in connection with the Temple, for men, women, youths and maidens, where they remained for the time which had been fixed by themselves or their parents. Their occupations consisted in decorating the temple, and in making the garments which the priests and levites wore during their sacred functions. Thus we read in the first book of Kings, that Anne the spouse of Elkana, made a vow that if she gave birth to a male child, she would consecrate it to the Lord. The Lord blessed her and she brought forth a son, whom she named Samuel, and afterwards consecrated to the Most High, through the hands of the High Priest, Heli. In the second book of the Maccabees, we find mention of virgins, who lived and were educated in the Temple, that is, in a building annexed to it.
It is the belief of several holy Fathers, that Joachim and Anna, being already advanced in years and having no issue, made a vow to God that if He would bless them with a child, and thus take from them the dishonor of being barren, they would consecrate their offspring to His service in the Temple. God heard their prayer and blessed them so greatly that they became the parents of the most holy of all human beings, Mary, the ever Blessed Virgin. For three years they kept this sacred treasure at home, after which time, although Mary was their only comfort, they resigned her with pious fortitude, in fulfillment of their vow. Hence they went, with their daughter, to Jerusalem, presented her to the priest in the Temple and consecrated her, through his hands, to the service of the Almighty.
But who can worthily describe the devotion and veneration which Mary manifested at the consecration! She had not only consented cheerfully, but as, notwithstanding her tender years, she was already possessed of her full reason, and knew better than any one else, in heaven or on earth, the Majesty of Him to whom she was consecrated, she had longed for the moment when she was to be given to Him. She went therefore most joyfully to the Temple, her heart full of devotion and love towards God and a fervent desire to serve Him. The priest was at first greatly astonished, not only at the unusual beauty of the little child, but still more at the devotion she showed in such extreme youth. When her parents had given her in charge to the priest, the latter took her to the Altar, to which there was an ascent of fifteen steps on the first of which he placed her. Having in a few words bade her parents farewell, the little maiden went joyfully and unaided, from the lowest step to the highest, and casting herself down before the Altar, she consecrated herself to the Almighty with such humility and reverence, that all present were deeply moved. Her consecration differed greatly from that of all other children. Many were brought to the temple only because their parents desired it, and without their own knowledge of the reasons for which it was done. Others wept bitterly at parting with their parents. No other at that tender age, had understood the ceremony, and none had made the consecration with such entire devotion to the Lord.
The Blessed Virgin, however, already gifted with reason, not only consented to the sacrifice thus made by her parents to God, but consecrated herself, entirely and with a happy heart, to His service. How pleasing this sacrifice must have been to the Lord, words are unable to express. It is quite certain that, from the creation of the world until that time, no sacrifice had been so pleasing to Him as that which Mary offered in her own person. Abel, Noah, Aaron, and many more, had sacrificed to the Lord the fruits of the Earth, or dumb brutes; but Mary offered herself. Many parents had consecrated their children to the service of God, but Mary surpassed them all in innocence and grace, in heavenly virtues and gifts; hence it cannot be doubted that her sacrifice surpassed all others, and was more agreeable to the Almighty. After the consecration. Mary was taken into the dwelling of the maidens destined to serve the Most High, and was numbered among them. There she remained until her marriage with St. Joseph.
Her conduct during this period can be more easily imagined than described; but it is certain that it was more like an angel's than like that of a human being. Her occupation was prayer, reading, meditation and work. In the works of St. Jerome there is a sermon on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, in which the life she led in the Temple is thus described: “She endeavored to surpass in goodness all those with whom she dwelt; to be the first in the nightly vigils; to understand Holy Writ most thoroughly; to be the most humble; to sing the Pslams of David most devoutly; to love God most fervently; to be the most chaste; in a word, to be the first in all virtues, in order to honor the Almighty, and to prove her love to Him. God was the only subject of her conversation. She prayed without ceasing and meditated on the law of the Lord.” St. Ambrose, in his instructions to those who had vowed perpetual chastity, gives them Mary as an example, saying emphatically, that her life had been such that it might serve as a model to all. “Mary,” he writes “was virgin, not only in body, but also in heart and mind. She was modest in her speech, and humble of heart. She offended no one, had every one's welfare at heart, avoided pride and loved virtue. Nothing bold was in her gaze, nothing frivolous in words, nothing that was in the least immodest in all her manners. Her body was the index of her mind, a model of piety. She went not to rest until necessity required it, and when her body rested, her soul remained awake.” This and much more, the above mentioned Father writes, in praise of the Blessed Virgin.
St. Bonaventure relates a vision in which the Divine Mother said to a holy person: “I arose always in the middle of the night, went to the Altar of the Temple, and presented my homage and desires to the Almighty.” These desires were for the grace of loving God above all things and with her whole heart; of her neighbor for God's sake; of keeping the Commandments of the Lord, and of hating everything that was displeasing to Him. The same holy teacher says also: “Mary was very solicitous that none of her companions should in the least offend the Lord, but that they should always praise Him and never indulge in idle words.” He writes further, that Mary occupied her thoughts with holy contemplations, her mouth with devout prayers; but, at the same time used her hands in sacred work, and admonished others to do the same. Several Holy Fathers write that the Blessed Virgin, soon after entering the Temple, consecrated her virginity to the Lord. Others, with greater reason, maintain that this had been done before, and as soon as she had been conceived, since she was gifted even then with the full use of her reason. The Holy Fathers Ambrose, Jerome, Rupert, Bernard, and many others, think that the Blessed Virgin was the first who made a vow of chastity, and thus set an example, which many thousands, desiring to serve the Lord more perfectly, have followed and are still following.
It is quite certain that the Blessed Virgin, from the first use of her reason until the end of her life, always endeavored to do what she knew would make her more perfect, and thus unite her more closely with the Almighty. Hence it is easy to conclude, that she gathered such a treasure of merits, as no Saint ever did or will possess. St. Bonaventure and St. Bernardine of Sienna apply to her the words of the Proverbs of Solomon: “Many daughters have gathered riches, but thou hast surpassed them all.” Many daughters, they say, means, many souls, many Saints have gathered riches in merits; but Mary surpasses them all, as well in grace, as in virtues and merits. Hence it follows that her glory in heaven is above that of all other Saints; for which reason she is called by the Catholic Church Queen of All Saints. Nothing is more just than that we duly honor so great a Queen, and invoke her with confidence; for the higher she stands above all other Saints, the more powerful is her intercession with God. (1)
The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
from the Liturgical Year, 1901
The Presentation is one of the minor solemnities of our Lady, and was inscribed at a comparatively late date on the sacred cycle; it seems to court the homage of our silent contemplation. The world, unknown to itself, is ruled by the secret prayers of the just; and the Queen of saints, in her hidden mysteries, wrought far more powerfully than the so-called great men, whose noisy achievements fill the annals of the human race. The East had been celebrating for seven centuries at least the entrance of the Mother of God into the temple of Jerusalem when in 1372 Gregory XI. permitted it to be kept for the first time by the Roman court at Avignon. Mary in return broke the chains of captivity, that had bound the Papacy for seventy years; and soon the successor of St. Peter returned to Rome. The feast of the Visitation, as we saw on July 2nd, was in like manner inserted in the Western Calendar, to commemorate the re-establishment of unity after the schism which followed the exile.
In 1373, following the example of the Sovereign Pontiff, Charles V. of France introduced the feast of the Presentation into the chapel of his palace. By letters dated 10th November 1374, to the masters and students of the college of Navarre, he expressed his desire that it should be celebrated throughout the kingdom: “Charles, by the grace of God king of the Franks, to our dearly beloved: health in him who ceases not to honor his Mother on earth. Among other objects of our solicitude, of our daily care and diligent meditation, that which rightly occupies our first thoughts is, that the blessed Virgin and most holy Empress be honored by us with very great love, and praised as becomes the veneration due to her. For it is our duty to glorify her; and we, who raise the eyes of our soul to her on high, know what an incomparable protectress she is to all, how powerful a mediatrix with her blessed Son, for those who honor her with a pure heart…. Wherefore, wishing to excite our faithful people to solemnize the said feast, as we ourselves propose to do by God's assistance every year of our life, we send this Office to your devotion, in order to increase your joy (Launoy, Historia Navarrae gymnasii, Pars I. Lib. i. cap. 10).”
Such was the language of princes in those days. Now just at that very time, the wise and pious king, following up the work begun at Bretigny by our Lady of Chartres, rescued France from its fallen and dismembered condition. In the State then, as well as in the Church, at this moment so critical for both, our Lady in her Presentation commanded the storm, and the smile of the infant Mary dispersed the clouds.
The new feast, enriched with Indulgences by Paul II., had gradually become general, when St. Pius V., wishing to diminish the number of Offices on the universal Calendar, included this one among his suppressions. But Sixtus V. restored it to the Roman Breviary in 1585, and shortly afterwards Clement VIII. raised it to the rank of Double Major. Soon the Clergy and Regulars adopted the custom of renewing their holy vows on this day, whereon their Queen had opened before them the way that leads by sacrifice to the special love of our Lord.
Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear, and forget thy people and thy father's house; and the King shall greatly desire thy beauty. Thus, wording the wishes of the daughters of Tyre, sang the Church of the expectation, on the summit of Mount Moriah; and penetrating the future with her inspired glance, she added: After her shall virgins be brought to the King, her neighbors shall be brought to thee; they shall be brought with gladness and rejoicing: they shall be brought into the temple of the King. Hailed beforehand as beautiful above the sons of men, this King, the most mighty, makes on this day a prelude to His conquests; and even this beginning is wonderful. Through the graceful infant now mounting the temple steps, He takes possession of that temple, whose priests will hereafter vainly disown Him: for this child, whom the temple welcomes today, is His throne. Already His fragrance precedes and announces Him, in the Mother in whose bosom He is to be anointed with the oil of gladness, as the Christ among His brethren; already the Angels hail her as the Queen whose fruitful virginity will give birth to all those consecrated souls, who keep for the divine Spouse the myrrh and the incense of their holocausts, those daughters of kings, who are to form her court of honor (Ps. xliv).
But our Lady's Presentation also opens new horizons before the Church. On the Cycle of the Saints, which is not so precisely limited as that of the Time, the mystery of Mary's sojourn in the sanctuary of the Old Covenant is our best preparation for the approaching season of Advent. Mary, led to the temple in order to prepare in retirement, humility, and love for her incomparable destiny, had also the mission of perfecting at the foot of the figurative altar the prayer of the human race, of itself ineffectual to draw down the Savior from heaven. She was, as Saint Bernardine of Siena says, the happy completion of all the waiting and supplication for the coming of the Son of God; in her, as in their culminating point, all the desires of the saints who had preceded her found their consummation and their term (Bernardin. Sen. Pro festivitatibus V. Mariae, Sermo iv.).
Through her wonderful understanding of the Scriptures, and her conformity, daily and hourly, to the minutest teachings and prescriptions of the Mosaic ritual, Mary everywhere found and adored the Messias hidden under the letter; she united herself to Him, immolated herself with Him in each of the many victims sacrificed before her eyes; and thus she rendered to the God of Sinai the homage, hitherto vainly expected, of the Law understood, practiced, and made to fructify, in all the fullness that beseemed its divine Legislator. Then could Jehovah truly say: As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and return no more thither, but soak the earth and water it, and make it to spring: so shall my word be: . . . it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please (Isais, lv. 10, 11).
Supplying thus for the deficiencies of the Gentiles as well as of the Synagogue, Mary beheld in the Bride of the Canticle the Church of the future. In our name she addressed her supplications to Him whom she recognized as the Bridegroom, without however knowing that He was to be her own Son. Such yearnings of love, coming from her, were sufficient to obtain from the divine Word pardon for the infidelities of the past, and the immorality into which the wandering world was plunging deeper and deeper (Olier, Vie interieure de la tres-sainte Vierge, Presentation). How well did this Ark of the New Covenant replace that of the Jews, which had perished with the first temple! It was for her, though he knew it not, that Herod the Gentile had continued the construction of the second temple, after it had remained desolate since the time of Zorobabel; for the temple, like the tabernacle before it, was but the home of the ark destined to be God's throne; but greater was the glory of the second temple which sheltered the reality, than of the first which contained but the figure. (1,3)
Prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary
O blessed Virgin Mary! who can duly thank thee, or herald forth thy praises, who, by the assent of thy single will, didst rescue a fallen world? What honor can be paid to thee by our weak human nature, which, by thy intervention alone, hath found the way to return to grace and life? Accept then, such poor thanks as we have here to offer, unequal to thy merits though they be; and, accepting our good desires, obtain by thy prayers the remission of our offenses. Graciously hear our prayers, and obtain for us the remedy of reconciliation.
May the offering we make to God through thee, through thee be acceptable in his sight; and may that be granted which we ask with trustful heart. Accept our offerings, grant us our petitions, banish our fears; for thou art the sole hope of sinners. Through thee we hope for forgiveness of our sins; and in thee, most blessed Lady, is the hope of our reward.
Holy Mary, succor the wretched, help the fainthearted, comfort the sorrowful, pray for the people, shield the clergy, intercede for holy women; let all who celebrate thy holy commemoration feel thy protection. Be thou at hand, ready to aid our prayers, and obtain for us what we desire. Make it thy care, blessed Lady, to intercede ever for the people of God–thou who didst deserve to bear the Redeemer of the world, who liveth and reigneth, for ever and ever. Amen.
Indulgence of 50 days each time, His Holiness, Pius IX., May 19, 1854
Image: Presentation of Virgin Mary, artist Titian, circa between 1534 and 1538
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff