The Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary
The Liturgical year is filled with great Solemnities and feasts, many of which honor our Blessed Mother. One, perhaps, of the lesser known feasts is the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is a feast in which we honor Our Lady’s consecration to God from childhood. Tradition has it that at the age of three, Mary was taken to the temple by her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne, and presented or dedicated to the Lord. She was offered to the high priest in service to the temple and would be educated there by the widow Anna.
This complete dedication to God was a deep desire of Our Lady as well, even at so young an age. Her acceptance into the temple marks a day of great joy for the Church, because Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant, entered back into the temple.
This feast has a long history in the Church, with the first records of its liturgical celebration beginning in the 9th century. The Eastern Church has celebrated this feast with great richness and includes it as one of the twelve great feasts throughout the year. It was added to the Roman calendar in the 15th century, removed in the mid-16th century with the reform of the Tridentine Missal, and then reintroduced in the late 16th century. It is celebrated in both the Orthodox Church and Catholic Church on November 21st.
Some Controversy Surrounding the Feast
This beautiful feast is not without controversy. Firstly, mention of this feast day comes in large part from apocryphal writings (writings not included in our approved canon of Scripture). These include the Protoevangel of James, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary. Secondly, the historian Josephus is often cited incorrectly, that pious families would present their daughters in the temple and offer them in service to God until the age of about fifteen. They would then leave their service in the temple and be ready to marry. Unfortunately, references to this Jewish custom for daughters cannot be validated in any of Josephus’ extant writings. Although, piecing together various scriptures and historical documents, we can conclude that this was likely a custom in Jewish antiquity.
Our Lady’s presentation is validated in great detail by private revelation. Although left to the faithful to independently decide to believe in, these approved private revelations can help us understand this great feast and have confidence in its occurrence and importance.
Mother Mary said to Saint Bridget of Sweden: “From my infancy, the Holy Spirit was perfectly with me. And as I grew, It filled me so completely as to leave no room for any sin to enter. When I had attained an age to know something of my Creator, I turned to Him with unspeakable love and desired Him with my whole heart. I vowed in my heart to observe virginity if it was pleasing to Him, and to possess nothing in the world - but if God willed otherwise, that His Will, not mine, be done, I committed my will absolutely to Him.” (1)
To Saint Elizabeth of Schoenau, the Blessed Mother said, “I want to teach you the prayers that I said while I was in the Temple. When my father and mother left me in the Temple, I resolved in my heart to have God as my Father, and I frequently and devoutly pondered what I might do to please God so that He would deign to give me His grace. I studied the Law of God. And of all the precepts of the Divine Law, I kept three with particular care in my heart, namely ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole strength. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…’” (2)
How Can We Celebrate This Feast?
We can celebrate this feast by striving to imitate the Virgin Mary and her virtues. We should reflect on her consecration and firm resolve, throughout her whole life, to love God and avoid all occasions and near occasions of sin. This should inspire us to do the same. We can celebrate this feast by preparing for and confessing our sins frequently, especially all mortal sins but also those venial sins which occur daily and often times repeatedly.
Our Blessed Mother continued to teach Saint Elizabeth of Schoenau about her life of prayer saying, “a soul cannot have any virtue of it does not love God with all its heart, for from this love, the abundance of grace descends into the soul...but after descending, it does not remain, it flows away like water, if the soul does not hate its enemies, that is, its sins and vices.” (2)
This feast day gives us a great hope and encouragement to pray. Our Lady inspires us to "confidently ask God in prayer for the graces and virtues which you do not have, and in order that you should humbly persist in asking for them. And I want you to pray with fervor and devotion for your salvation and for that of others, because God wants those who have to help those who have not.” (2)
Example for Christian Parents
This feast also exemplifies the role of Christian parents. Parents should see in the beautiful example of Saints Joachim and Anne a standard and inspiration in their own vocation as father or mother. Our duty is to cultivate and deepen the love of God in our children’s minds, hearts, and souls. Teaching them from an early age to reflect upon and desire Our Blessed Mother’s openness to God’s plan for her life. We must create an atmosphere that allows our child’s vocation, whatever it may be, to develop and be freely pursued, even if it means going against our plan for them. Saints Joachim and Anne responded to our Lord’s generosity in granting them a daughter, with generosity. They offered the very gift they were given, the deepest desire of the hearts, back to God. This sacrifice was so complete that they would not see their daughter's return before their death. May we strive to do the same within our own families, aspiring to follow God’s plan over our own each and every day.
May this upcoming feast of the Presentation of Our Blessed Mother, inspire us to take up a daily life of prayer and to imitate Our Lady in combating all sin and vice in our life.
Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, pray for us!
Our Lady, conceived without sin, pray for us!
1. Brown, Raphael. The Life of Mary as seen by the Mystics. Rockford, Illinois. TAN Books and Publishers Inc., 1951. Presentation, p. 47.
2. Ibid., p. 56-60.