The Presentation of the Virgin Mary by Titian (1534-38, Gallerie dell’AccademiaVenice

You might already be familiar with the annual feast of the Presentation of our Lord, but are you familiar with the annual feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary? It is celebrated each year on November 21.

What is it and why do we celebrate it?

The Presentation of Mary is not found in Scripture as is the Presentation of our Lord. Instead, we learn about Mary’s presentation from accounts that have come to us from apostolic times. What we know is found in the Apocrypha, principally in chapter seven of the Protoevangelium of James, which has been dated by historians prior to the year 200 AD. The Apocrypha is a set of books that is authoritative but has not been included in the canon of the Bible.

The Protoevangelium of James, presumably written by the apostle of the same name, relates a detailed account in which Mary’s father, Joachim, tells his wife, Anna, that he wishes to bring their daughter to the Temple.  Anna’s response is that they should wait until Mary is three years old so that she wouldn’t need her parents as much. On the day designated for Mary to be taken to the Temple, Hebrew virgins accompanied the family with burning lamps. The Temple priest received Mary, kissed her, and blessed her. According to James’ writing, the priest then proclaimed, “The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, the Lord will manifest his redemption to the sons of Israel.” After that, Mary was placed on the third step of the Temple and danced with joy. All the House of Israel loved Mary, and she was nurtured from then on in the Temple while her parents returned to their Nazareth home, glorifying God.

The celebration of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary grew slowly over the years. On November 21, 543, Emperor Justinian dedicated a church to Mary in the Temple area of Jerusalem. Many of the early church Fathers celebrated this feast day, such as St. Germanus and St. John Damascene. The Byzantine Church considers this one of the twelve great feasts of the liturgical year but was not celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church until the ninth century. It was formally celebrated in Avignon, France in 1373, and in 1472, Pope Sixtus IV extended it to the universal church.

In 1974, Pope Paul VI wrote about this feast in his encyclical Marialis Cultus, “despite its apocryphal content, it presents lofty and exemplary values and carries on the venerable traditions having their origins in the Eastern churches.”

Part legend and part tradition, the memorial of the Presentation of Mary has been noted in the Church since its early years and yet is easily forgotten or misunderstood. Since it’s classified as a memorial and not a solemnity or holy day of obligation, it doesn’t draw much attention to itself other than a special opening prayer. On this day, we celebrate the fact that God chose to dwell in Mary in a unique way. In response, she placed her whole self at his service. By our Baptism, God invites us, too, into his service.

Why should we celebrate the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

Mary is truly our Mother, given to us by Christ as he hung dying on the Cross. Because we are part of her Son’s body, she loves us with as much devotion and tenderness as she loves Jesus. Therefore, all of her feast days should be important to us. When we celebrate her presentation, we are giving Mary the honor she deserves and witnessing to her perfect purity as the Virgin of Nazareth and the Mother of God. Sts. Joachim and Anne surrendered their only daughter to God so that she would be completely free to follow his holy will. Although they loved her dearly, they knew that in the Temple Mary would be always near the Holy of Holies, surrounded by an atmosphere of godliness and grace. She would be instructed in Scripture and the history of the Jewish people. She would be under the guardianship and tutelage of the holy women of the Temple who had given their lives to God. One of them, Scripture scholars believe, was Anna – the woman who prophesied at the Presentation of our Lord. In the Temple, Mary would be completely focused on God and well prepared for becoming the Mother of the Savior and Mother of the Body of Christ.

When we celebrate the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we remember the tremendous sacrifice Sts. Joachim and Anne made for our sakes. We give honor and respect to the Purest Virgin, who is an example for all of us in our struggle for holiness. And, WWE expresses our gratitude for the gift of a pure, tender, and always-loving Mother.

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