The Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a special day for Benedictine Oblates but it is also an important feast for all Catholics who can take Mary as a model of faith.
Why is this feast so important? In a story similar to the Old Testament tale of Hannah offering Samuel to the service of God in the Temple as an act of thanksgiving, the occasion of Mary being presented at the age of three by her parents in the Temple, though not recorded in Scripture, formed the basis of one of the most popular stories about her in tradition, a tradition which for centuries the ordinary faithful loved to recount. We can read the story in non-canonical literature, first in the Protoevangelium of James, in the Early Church:
“And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.”
And later, we read, in the 13th century in the Golden Legend, a compilation of traditional stories of the Saints and the Holy Family, by Jacobus de Voragine. This book was extremely popular in the Middle Ages.
“The virgin child was set down at the lowest step and mounted to the top without help from anyone, as if she were already fully grown up. Having made their offering, Joachim and Anna left their daughter in the Temple with the other virgins and went home. Mary advanced steadily in all holiness. Angels visited her every day, and she enjoyed the vision of God daily.”
Mary herself, the story goes, from a very tender age, pledged herself to the service of God and in paintings of this subject, we see her as a tiny, but confident figure walking alone up the steps into the Temple, carrying a lighted candle in her hand. Her presentation has an important theological purpose. It continues the impact of the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of the Nativity of Mary and emphasises that the holiness conferred on Mary from her conception continued through her early childhood and beyond, to her Fiat to the Angel of the Lord.
Mary is the prime example of those to whom Jesus refers in the Gospel of this feast, as “anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 12: 50). The Feast of the Presentation celebrates the fact that from her earliest days, Mary was devoted to the will of God and was therefore well prepared to become the living temple of God’s Son at the time of God’s choosing.
We too are called to do the will of our heavenly Father so that we also can be temples of the Lord, carrying the Lord’s presence to others, answering St Paul’s question to us, “Didn’t you realise that you are God’s temple?” (1 Cor. 3:16) And so we ask Mary to pray for us now so that we may emulate her in always doing the will of the Father that we too may become temples of the living God.
Just as the child Mary offered herself to the service of God, so we, when making our Oblation, offer ourselves. Likewise, we remember our Christian vocation each time we renew our baptismal promises.
Eileen Grant | Old Rayne