Friday, November 21, 2014

Feast of the Presentation of Mary

Mary being presented at the Temple, at the age of 3
While the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary was not generally celebrated in the West until the 11th century, it appears in most of the earliest calendars of the Eastern Churches. The feast seems first to have appeared in Syria, but later rose to prominence in Jerusalem. A basilica was built near the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Gospel of James and other apocryphal works (not included in the Bible) told the story of Mary's presentation at the Temple at the age of three. In gratitude for being granted a child after years of infertility, Mary's parents, Saints Joachim and St Anne had vowed to dedicate Mary to the service of God at the Temple. When they presented her at the Temple at the age of three, she stayed willingly, showing her dedication to God even at that young age, attending the temple regularly, similar to what children do attending their Religious Education classes.

The Gospel or Protoevangelium of James is the source of many details of Mary's life that became universally accepted by the Church, including the names of her parents, the story of her birth, her age at her betrothal to Saint Joseph, and Saint Joseph's advanced age and his status as a widower with children by his first wife. It also played a large role among Christians, both Eastern and Western, in recognizing Mary as the new Temple, the true Holy of Holies. When Mary left the Temple at the age of 12 after her betrothal to Joseph, she remained pure and chaste, and at the Annunciation God came to dwell in her.

The Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary first made its way to the West through monasteries in Southern Italy in the ninth century; by the 11th century, it had spread to other locales, but was by no means universally celebrated. Under the influence of a French nobleman, Philippe de Mazières, Pope Gregory XI began celebrating the feast during the time the Pope was living in Avignon, France. Pope Sixtus IV first placed the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the universal calendar in 1472, but in the Tridentine reform of the calendar in 1568, Pope Pius V removed the feast. It was restored 17 years later by Pope Sixtus V, and remains in the Roman calendar today as a memorial.

Today's Feast emphasizes our response to God's gifts. We remember the response of Mary's mother and father in their decision to present her in the temple for dedication to the Lord. All parents are called to imitate their response by presenting their children for Baptism. We reflect on the mystery of Mary's own continuing response from her very earliest days to the Lord's invitations of grace. Mary was called to continually give her "Yes" to God's invitations of love. In that continual "Yes" or “Fiat”she shows us the way we are all called to respond to the invitations of grace in our own lives as we grow in holiness. 

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