The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

Mary temple

Mary, Presented in the Temple: Giotto

The Presentation of Mary, November 21,  is an ecumenical feast that originated early on in the church of Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem tradition claims Mary was born there near the temple where her father Joachim provided lambs for the temple sacrifices. He and his wife Ann, old and childless, were blessed with a daughter whom they presented in the temple as a little child. The tradition is honored by Christian churches of the east and west.

The church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, situated today next to the ancient temple site, is built on the place where Mary was born, tradition says. Other places, like Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris, also claim to be her birthplace.

st.ann basilica

Church of St. Ann, Jerusalem

The Jerusalem tradition has some support in Luke’s gospel, which says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest. Was Mary’s family connected to the temple?

Luke links Mary a number of times to the temple. Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) Luke also says they brought Jesus as a child to the temple to celebrate the feasts. Jesus calls the temple familiarly “my Father’s house.”

The apocryphal  gospel of James suggests Mary was presented in the temple as a little girl and suggests she lived there until her arranged marriage to Joseph. The four gospels seem to place Mary in Nazareth, far from the temple, for most of her life. That’s where the angel speaks to her.    

Can we say that for Mary the temple where prophets and wisdom can be found  signifies God’s presence. Like Jesus she loved that holy place, but like him she believed the temple of God can be found everywhere, in Nazareth, Bethlehem, even on Calvary.(cf. John 4, 22-26) “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Paul would say later to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 3, 16) 

St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists, had a great devotion to this mystery and dedicated his first retreat on Monte Argentario in Italy to the Presentation of Mary. Three hundred years ago today, he received the habit of a hermit from Bishop Gatinara in northern Italy, and a few days later entered upon a 40 day retreat where he experienced the presence of God. He named the first retreat of his congregation after the mystery of Mary’s Presentation and returned to that retreat each year, when he could, to pray there during her feast.

Please pray for the Passionists, the community he founded, that we may find God’s presence today and gain wisdom from Mary, the Mother of God.

7 thoughts on “The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

  1. Gail Smyder

    Father Victor, thanks for the gift of this feast. It is my birthday, so it makes it extra special to read your reflections. Blessings and prayers.

    Gail

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  2. Charlie Kelley, St. Mary's Church, Colts Neck

    Fr. Victor. Thank you for the story of The Presentation of Mary in the Temple. You introduced me to many things that I had not heard before. Is it true that of the Apostles, Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, that Luke was the only one that did not ever meet Jesus, but instead presented his scriptures from his time spent with Mary.

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  3. vhoagland Post author

    Seems like Luke knew some of the traditions about the birth of Jesus through Mary. The pope in his recent book says, “Luke indicates from time to time that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is herself one of his sources, especially when he says in 2:51 that ‘his mother kept all these things in her heart. (cf.also 2,19) Only she could report the event of the annunciation, for which there were no human witnesses.”

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  4. Liz

    True! Mary would be a reliable secondary source for Luke’s writing. More important than where she physically spent her young years is the evidence that she was the “sacred space” for God’s grace in the fullness. As Paul says, “Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit” and we carry God’s love wherever we go.

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  5. Woody Jones

    Thank you, Father Victor, for this very edifying meditation on the Presentation. For us Byzantine Catholics it is a major feast, usually under the title of the Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple, with undertones of this being the beginning of salvation history, if I recall the Vespers troparion correctly. All the best and keep up the good work.

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