As William Wordsworth wrote in his famous poem, The Virgin, Mary is “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” We celebrate that special grace given to Mary and all that flows from it. The life and person of Mary is that greatest model among creation for us to follow in our response to God’s call to us.
It is scarcely possible for us even to imagine the purity, holiness and spiritual greatness of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the Holy Trinity’s most cherished daughter, mother and spouse.
The feast of the Presentation of the Virgin celebrates Joachim and Anne’s offering of their child Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem, at the age of three, there to live until maturity — an event recorded around 150 A.D. in the non-canonical Infancy Gospel of James and called also as the Protoevangelium of James:
“And the child was three years old, and … they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. … And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her”.
The Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin was first celebrated in the eastern churches. The earliest liturgical calendar to include this feast is probably the Menologion of Basil II, compiled around 1000 in Constantinople. In 1372, a returning Crusader brought the feast to France during the Papal stay in Avignon, and 100 years later Pope Sixtus IV made it a universal Catholic feast day. Religious orders and localities began adopting the Presentation of Mary as their patronal feast. And many shrines chose November 21 as the feast day for other Marian devotions (below). The present Catholic calendar lists it as an obligatory memorial — not a major feast, solemnity, or day of required attendance, but with liturgical importance.
This feast emphasizes the first total donation or consecration that Mary made of herself, becoming the model of every soul that consecrated to the Lord. On this day, the Church also celebrates World Day of Cloistered Life, also known as “Pro Orantibus” Day, which is a Latin phrase meaning “for those who pray.” This is an important ecclesial event for all Catholics worldwide to commemorate the hidden lives of consecrated religious in cloisters and monasteries. We celebrate this day because the contemplative life is a gift from Almighty God to us all — all the world benefits spiritually from the prayer and sacrifice of these dedicated and faithful souls, even when we may not know it. On this day, the faithful are encouraged to reach out to the cloistered and contemplative communities in their diocese, through prayer, encouragement, and material support.
The Presentation of Mary in the Temple gives us several insights about what Marian devotion is all about. The first has to do with the nature of the Virgin’s relationship with God. Mary has always given this relationship priority in her life. This is the reason for her virginity. Mary is a virgin because she preferred God to anything else. Her life in the Temple increased her intimacy with the Most High to the point that she became the perfect incarnation of Zion, that is to say, the helper that God chose for himself to accomplish his plan of redemption. Because before becoming the Mother of the Messiah, Mary was the Trinity’s most cherished friend… Indeed, she later became the Mother of the Incarnate Son, but also the Mother of the members of the Church!
This is a consoling mystery for those who do not have children, but are called by God to a spiritual fruitfulness, just as important, if not more so, than biological reproduction. The Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple shows us that we lose nothing by placing God first! The second teaching concerns the nature of Marian devotion. Our love for Mary should not be dictated primarily by superficial feelings or natural affections, but rather it should be rooted in the clear vision of how God considers His beloved daughter.
The existence of Our Lady was God’s desire. God created the world in preparation for Christ, but also in preparation for Mary, without whom the second Person of the Trinity would not have become incarnate. It is therefore by contemplating her with the eyes of the Trinity that we will understand her best. Our filial attachment towards Mary needs to be enlightened by dogma. It is good to love the Virgin Mary. It is even better to love her by studying the reasons why God gave her such a high place in His plan of salvation.
(Source: Marie de Nazareth)