Today, we remember the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the temple at a very young age. This feast originated in the Eastern Byzantine liturgy around the sixth century.
There are three “gospels” that have heavily influenced today’s memorial—the Protoevangelium of James, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary. The earliest of these writings was the Protoevangelium of James (also called the “Apocryphal Gospel of James”), which was written sometime in the second century. It is not considered to be part of the inspired word of God, the canon of Scripture, because does not appear to have been written by the Apostle James. However, like many early Christian documents, this apocryphal gospel held great influence in the early Church. It is from this writing that the Church takes the traditional names of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s parents—Saints Joachim and Anne—since that is the only record of their names we have.
The Protoevangelium of James gives a detailed account of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s life. At the time of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it was not uncommon for some children to be presented in the Temple at a young age, to be raised there, and to begin service at the Temple. They assisted the priests and acted as servants of charity. From the Protoevangelium of James we read, “And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until 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 your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. 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. And her parents went down marveling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel.”
As I reflected upon these words and wondered why St. Anne and St. Joachim, after decades of longing for a child, would present their beautiful child to the temple at such a young age, I was struck by the purity and holiness of Mary as a baby. Mary, who conceived without original sin, must have radiated peace and goodness. St. Anne and St. Joachim surely recognized that God had a special plan for this grace filled child.
Mary is called the new Eve. Mary would face the same choice that Eve faced in the Garden of Eden. She would be asked to choose for or against God. Eve was living in paradise. She walked in the presence of God. She spoke with God. And yet, she fell to the temptation of the evil one. For Mary to be given the same opportunity as Eve, Mary was conceived without original sin, as Eve was created sinless. Mary would be raised in the temple, in the presence of the Holy of Holies, the presence of God. She would spend her days in prayer and communion with God. Mary would know the love of God.
Mary would be like Eve when the time came to choose for or against God. Would Mary continue down the path Eve chose? No, Mary chose for God. She said, “YES, I am a handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word,” when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. Mary knew God. Mary loved God. Mary trusted God.
What does today’s memorial mean to us? We are all presented to God in Baptism, as Mary was in the temple. And through our Baptism we become the temple of the living God. The Trinity lives in us through our Baptism. Do I respect myself and others as temples of the living God? Have I spent time to know God, to love God and to trust God in all things? Our Blessed Mother shows us the way. Let us turn to her today for her intercession and motherly guidance to know, love and serve God as she does.