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.
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./)
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."
Many of the celebrations in honour of Mary are squarely based on Gospel texts. St Luke tell of her acceptance of God's invitation to be the mother of the Saviour at the Annunciation. We know of her maternity and of her faithfulness to her son, Jesus, even, as St John reports, standing at the side of his cross. But the Evangelists tells us nothing about Mary's early life. The inspired Word makes no mention of the event celebrated each year on November 21st, her Presentation in the Temple. This devotion is testified by a tradition that comes from a century after her 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 a translation of the Protoevangelium)
This book offers a colourful account of many aspects of Mary's early life, which 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 gets him to wait 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's feast celebrates an important truth about Mary: From the beginning of her life, she was dedicated to God, given over to God's purposes. Because of her dedication to God from an early age, she was called by God to become a greater temple than the magnificent temple in Jerusalem. If the temple in Jerusalem was the house of God, the place where God was believed to be present in a special way, Mary became the house of the Lord in an even greater way, because she carried the Lord in her womb until she give birth to him. God came to dwell in her, through Jesus, because she was open to God's presence from the earliest years of her life. She 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 did the will of 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 too can become temples of the Lord, people who carry Lord's presence to others. Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul says, "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 God as she was.