The Presentation of Mary, November 21, is an ecumenical feast that originated early on in the church of Jerusalem. A 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, was built on the place where Mary was born, this tradition says, though other places, like Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris, also claim to be her birthplace.
The Jerusalem tradition seems to have some support in Luke’s gospel, which says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest. Mary’s family, then, would be 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.”
Another early source, 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, Lukes’ gospel indicates.
Can we say that for Mary the temple, home of prophets and wisdom, 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. On this feast, over 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.