The presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Matthew 12:46-50
Many of the celebrations in honour of Mary are squarely based on Gospel texts. But the Evangelists tells us nothing about Mary’s early life. The scriptures make no mention of the event celebrated each year on November 21st, her Presentation in the Temple. This devotion is testified by a tradition that comes from a century after her life. The Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple is told in a delightful Apocryphal text, the Protoevangelium of James, which may be dated around the year 200 AD.
This book offers a colourful account of many aspects of Mary’s early life. Her father, Joachim, tells Anna his wife that he wishes to bring their child to serve in the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. Anna gets him to wait until the child is three years old, before having her live away from her parents. When the day arrived, a group of chaste Hebrew girls accompany Mary to the Temple, with their lamps burning. There the priest receives her, blesses her, and kisses her in welcome. The focus of the book is clear: from her earliest childhood Mary was completely dedicated and given over to God. It is to this beautiful apocryphal account that we owe the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady.
At that time, there were two ways of consecrating children: one was ordained by the law, which required every male child to be offered to God, forty days, and every female child, eighty days after its birth. This ceremony was called the consecration of the child and the purification of the mother. The second kind of consecration was a voluntary self-oblation by which some persons devoted themselves to the Almighty. There were also many parents who either before, or immediately after their child’s birth, consecrated it to the service of the Lord, sometimes for a few years, sometimes for life.
As part of their duties, they would devote themselves to decorating the temple and making the garments which the priests and Levites wore during their sacred functions. Thus we read in the first book of Kings, that Anne the spouse of Elkana, made a vow that if she gave birth to a male child, she would consecrate it to the Lord. The Lord blessed her and she brought forth a son, whom she named Samuel, and afterwards consecrated to the Most High, through the hands of the High Priest, Heli.