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.
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."
This feast of the Presentation of Our Blessed Lady is not based on any specific Gospel text, but is a popular devotion based on a creative reading of many hints in the Gospels, which were knitted together by an anonymous 2nd-century Christian writer. Most of our Marian liturgical celebrations are squarely based on episodes told by the Evangelists. Saint Luke tell of her glad acceptance of God's call at the Annunciation. He tells also of her magnificent spirituality, in the Magnificat. Later we hear of her maternity and of her utter faithfulness to her son, Jesus, even to standing beside his cross at the crucial high point of his sacrifice (John 19). But the Gospels tells us nothing about Mary's early life. The inspired Word is silent about the presentation that we celebrate each year on November 21st, whereby her parents presented Mary as a young girl to the service of God. This devotion is testified by a tradition that was written perhaps a century after Mary had departed this 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 here for our translation of this lovely, ancient text, the Protoevangelium)
This pious book abut the Virgin Mary's childhood offers a colourful account of many aspects of her early life, seen as a preparing for the Gospel. Her father, Joachim, tells Anna his wife that he wishes to bring their child to serve in the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. Anna makes him delay until the child is three years old, before having her live away from her parents. When the day arrived, a group of chaste Hebrew girls accompany Mary to the Temple, with their lamps burning. There the priest receives her, blesses her, and kisses her in welcome. He 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 6th 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.
Today we celebrate an important truth about Mary: From infancy onward, she was dedicated to God, totally committed to letting God's purposes be fulfilled in her life. Because of her dedication from an early age, she was called by God to become an even greater temple than the magnificent temple in Jerusalem. If the Jerusalem temple was the house of God, the place where Yahweh was believed to be present in a special way, Mary became the house of the Lord in an even greater way, because in her womb she carried the Lord until she give birth to him. God came to dwell in her, through Jesus, because she was open to divine influence from the earliest years of her life.
Our Blessed Lady is the prime example of the group that Jesus refers to in today's gospel as those "who do the will of my Father in heaven." Today's feast celebrates the fact that from her childhood Mary was devoted to the will of of the living God, and was therefore ready to become the temple of God's Son at the time of God's choosing. We too are called to do the will of the Father in heaven so that we also can be temples of the Lord, carrying Lord's presence to others. This feast echoes Paul's words, "Do you not know that you are God's temple?" We ask Mary to pray for us now so that we may always do the will of the Father and so become temples of the living God.