Scripture for the Memorial of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. November 21. Zechariah 2:14-17, Luke 1:46-47, 48-49, 50-51, 52-53, 54-55. Matthew 12:46-50.
All of the above Scriptural passages are seen by the Church as relating to Mary, the Mother of Jesus either directly or by accommodation. The selection from the prophet Zechariah is used to see Mary as the personification of the city of David called Zion (the stronghold of Jerusalem) for she surrounds her son like the walls of a city. This symbolization and archetypal image is found in Joel, Zephaniah, and Isaiah where Zion is compared to a mother or a woman.
The Psalm is Mary’s personal hymn which we sing , chant, or pray and is known as her Magnificat from the fact that her heart and soul do make the Lord great (magnify his glorious name). The entire song of Mary is read or song in this Responsorial and its verses.
Mary is among those who constantly do the will of God. They are truly the blessed and happy persons whom Jesus is speaking about. As disciples we join them through our faith put into action by love for our neighbor.
But what about the memorial or feast that speaks of the presentation of Mary in the Temple? This is based on a writing called the Proto-Gospel of James which was written around 150 A.D. It tells the story of Mary’s birth from her mother Ann and her father Joachim. The tenor of the story is a remarkable and creative depiction of the early life of Mary that is not recorded in the Bible (New Testament Luke 1 and 2). I think the author writes it in order to answer questions about the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. He probably comes from Syria which was one of the earliest among the nations to embrace Christianity. There are villages where the similarities to Jesus’ language are found in Syria today.
To appreciate such writing I recommend you to read Beverly Gaventa’s book entitled Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus. Her fifth chapter is a careful reading of the Proto-Gospel of James which she entitles “A Life of Sacred Purity.”
There are a good number of mistakes about Jewish ritual and rules for the Temple in this account which comes from a Christian who knows and uses St. Luke for his primary source plus some familiarity with the Old Testament. The writer is unknown but pretends to be James, the “brother of the Lord” through Joseph’s first marriage. Joseph appears more as a protecting older man than as a husband in the story. Mary is protected also by her mother Ann while living with her till Mary’s third birthday when she is presented to the priests at the Temple steps. There is a beautiful line that I appreciate having worked many years in Christian Jewish dialogue that reads: “And he (the priest) placed her on the third step of the altar, and the Lord God put grace upon the child, and she danced for joy with her feet, and the whole house of Israel loved her.” (PJ 7:3).
On the seventh floor of the Marian Library at the University of Dayton there are thousands of books on Mary, many hundreds of statues, and paintings, plus one of the largest collections of nativities in the world. There is a small statue of Mary dancing on the steps of the approach to the altar which represents her presentation in the Temple taken from the Gospel of James.
Personally, I had a significant beginning to my journey toward the vowed life as a Marianist religious on November 21, the Feast of the Presentation of Mary, when I made a formal dedication with 48 other young, very young men in 1952. This was a Marian dedication or Act of Consecration received by a former Provincial (Father Yeske). I have never regretted that promise and always call it to mind on this day called the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. It took place at Chaminade Preparatory in Marcy, New York and started my journey as a disciple of Jesus after the example of his mother Mary. Amen.
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.