November 21, 2017: PRESENTATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
November 21, 2017: PRESENTATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Rank: Greater Double.
“Hearken, Oh daughter, and see and incline thy ear; and forget thy people and thy father’s house.”
(Psalms, xliv. 11)
“Arise, make haste, my love, and come.”
(Cant, ii. 10)
O God, who wast pleased that blessed Mary ever a Virgin, become an abode for the Holy Ghost, should be this day presented in the temple; grant, by her intercession, we may be presented before thy divine majesty in the temple of glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
God himself on that day, celebrated a great feast with the whole celestial court,
when he beheld his spouse conducted to the temple. For he never saw a creature more holy and more beloved offering herself to him.
(Bernardino de Bustis)
When the holy company (Mary, St. Anne, and St. Joachim) had arrived at the temple, the eager child turned to her parents, kneeling kissed their hands, and asked for their benediction; and then, without turning back, she ascended the fifteen steps of the temple, as Arias Montanus relates upon the authority of Josephus, the Jewish historian, and presented herself to the priest, who, according to St. Germanus, was Zachary; then, taking leave of the world, and renouncing all the goods which it promises to its followers, she offered and consecrated herself to her Creator.
The Holy Spirit says in the Canticles, iii. 6, “Who is she that goeth up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh, and frankincense, and of all the powders of the perfumer?”
Rejoice with me, all ye who love the Lord, for when I was little I pleased the Most High.
The Presentation is one of the minor solemnities of our Lady, and was inscribed at a comparatively late date on the sacred Cycle; it seems to court the homage of our silent contemplation. The world, unknown to itself, is ruled by the secret prayers of the just; and the Queen of saints, in her hidden mysteries, wrought far more powerfully than the so-called great men, whose noisy achievements fill the annals of the human race.
The East had been celebrating for seven centuries at least the entrance of the Mother of God into the temple of Jerusalem, when in 1372 Gregory XI permitted it to be kept for the first time by the Roman court at Avignon. Mary in return broke the chains of captivity that had bound the Papacy for seventy years; and soon the successor of St. Peter returned to Rome. The feast of the Visitation, as we saw on July 2nd, was in like manner inserted in the Western Calendar to commemorate the reestablishment of unity after the schism which followed the exile.
In 1373, following the example of the Sovereign Pontiff, Charles V of France introduced the feast of the Presentation into the chapel of his palace. By letters dated the 10th of November 1374, to the masters and students of the college of Navarre, he expressed his desire that it should be celebrated throughout the kingdom: “Charles, by the grace of God king of the Franks, to our dearly beloved: health in him to ceases not to honor his Mother on earth. Among other objects of our solicitude, of our daily care and diligent meditation, that which rightly occupies our first thoughts is that the blessed Virgin and most holy Empress be honored by us with very great love, and praised as becomes the veneration due to her. For it is our duty to glorify her; and we, who raise the eyes of our soul to her on high, know what an incomparable protectress she is to all, how powerful a mediatrix with her blessed Son, for those who honor her with a pure heart… Wherefore, wishing to excite our faithful people to solemnize the said feast, as we ourselves propose to do by God’s assistance every year of our life, we send this Office to your devotion, in order to increase your joy.”
Such was the language of princes in those days. Now just at that very time, the wise and pious king, following up the work begun at Brétigny by our Lady of Chartres, rescued France from its fallen and dismembered condition. In the State then, as well as in the Church, at this moment so critical for both, our Lady in her Presentation commanded the storm, and the smile of the infant Mary dispersed the clouds.
The new feast, enriched with Indulgences by Paul II, had gradually become general, when St. Pius V, wishing to diminish the number of Offices on the universal Calendar, included this one among his suppressions. But Sixtus V restored it to the Roman Breviary in 1585, and shortly afterwards Clement VIII raised it to the rank of Double Major. Soon the Clergy and Regulars adopted the custom of renewing their holy vows on this day, whereon their Queen had opened before them the way that leads by sacrifice to the special love of our Lord.
Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear, and forget thy people and thy father’s house; and the King shall greatly desire thy beauty. Thus, wording the wishes of the daughters of Tyre, sang the Church of the expectation, on the summit of Mount Moriah; and penetrating the future with her inspired glance, she added: After her shall virgins be brought to the King, her neighbors shall be brought to thee; they shall be brought with gladness and rejoicing: they shall be brought into the temple of the King. Hailed beforehand as beautiful above the sons of men, this King, the most mighty, makes on this day a prelude to his conquests; and even this beginning is wonderful. Through the graceful infant now mounting the temple steps, he takes possession of that temple, whose priests will hereafter vainly disown him: for this child, whom the temple welcomes to-day, is his throne. Already his fragrance precedes and announces him, in the Mother in whose bosom he is to be anointed with the oil of gladness, as the Christ among his brethren; already the Angels hail her as the Queen whose fruitful virginity will give birth to all those consecrated souls, who keep for the divine Spouse the myrrh and the incense of their holocausts, those daughters of kings, who are to form her court of honor (Ps, xliv).
But our Lady’s Presentation also opens new horizons before the Church. On the Cycle of the Saints, which is not so precisely limited as that of the Time, the mystery of Mary’s sojourn in the sanctuary of the Old Covenant is our best preparation for the approaching season of Advent. Mary, led to the temple in order to prepare in retirement, humility, and love for her incomparable destiny, had also the mission of perfecting at the foot of the figurative altar the prayer of the human race, of itself ineffectual to draw down the Savior from heaven. She was, as Saint Bernardine of Siena says, the happy completion of all the waiting and supplication for the coming of the Son of God; in her, as in their culminating point, all the desires of the saints who had preceded her found their consummation and their term.
Through her wonderful understanding of the Scriptures, and her conformity, daily and hourly, to the minutest teachings and prescriptions of the Mosaic ritual, Mary everywhere found and adored the Messias hidden under the letter; she united herself to him, immolated herself with him in each of the many victims sacrificed before her eyes; and thus she rendered to the God of Sinai the homage, hitherto vainly expected, of the Law understood, practiced, and made to fructify, in all the fullness that beseemed its divine Legislator. Then could Jehovah truly say: As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and return no more thither, but soak the earth and water it, and make it to spring:… so shall my word be:… it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please (Isaias, lv. 10, 11).
Supplying thus for the deficiencies of the Gentiles as well as of the Synagogue, Mary beheld in the Bride of the Canticle the Church of the future. In our name she addressed her supplications to him whom she recognized as the Bridegroom, without however knowing that he was to be her own Son. Such yearnings of love, coming from her, were sufficient to obtain from the divine Word pardon for the infidelities of the past, and the immorality into which the wandering world was plunging deeper and deeper. How well did this Ark of the New Covenant replace that of the Jews, which had perished with the first temple! It was for her, though he knew it not, that Herod the Gentile had continued the construction of the second temple (B.C. 20), after it had remained desolate since the time of Zorobabel; for the temple, like the tabernacle before it, was but the home of the ark destined to be God’s throne; but greater was the glory of the second temple which sheltered the reality, than of the first which contained but the figure.
The Greeks have chosen for the Lessons of the feast the passages of Scripture which describe the carrying of the Ark into the tabernacle of the desert (Exod, xl), and afterwards into the temple of Jerusalem (III Kings, viii). The historical Lesson relates the traditions concerning the oblation of the Blessed Virgin by her holy parents to God in the temple, at the age of three years, there to dwell until, after the lapse of twelve years, the mystery of our salvation was to be accomplished in her.
In the sixth century, the emperor Justinian built, in honor of the Presentation, a magnificent church, on the southern part of the platform on which had formerly stood the temple and its annexes. It is now the mosque El-Aksa.
The next century gives us the following strophes, which bear witness to the antiquity of the feast.
The exceedingly pure temple of the Savior, the inestimable sheep, the holy Virgin, the sacred ark containing the treasure of the divine majesty, is led today into the house of the Lord; thither she brings the grace of the divine Spirit, while the Angels of God sing her praises, saying: Truly she is the heavenly tabernacle.
While I contemplate the grace of God’s ineffable and sacred mysteries, revealed in its plenitude in this Virgin, I am full of joy, and I cannot comprehend the wonderful and inexpressible way in which this chosen and immaculate Virgin surpasses all creatures visible and invisible. Desiring then to applaud her with joyful voice, my thoughts and words fail me; yet I dare to proclaim her praises and exalt her, for she is the heavenly tabernacle.
The Creator, Author, and Lord of all things, out of his incomprehensible mercy and compassion, bent down towards us, and seeing the creature he had made with his own hands fallen away, he in his pity, deigned to restore it by a sublimer work than the creation; for he, so good and merciful, emptied himself; and in the mystery whereby he freely took on him our nature, he associated the immaculate Virgin Mary with himself: and she is the heavenly tabernacle.
The Word of God, our Redeemer, willing to show himself for our sake in the flesh, brought the Virgin into this world, and honored the coming of that spotless one with new and stupendous gifts; for he gave her as the fruit and reward of prayer, and promised and announced her to Joachim and Anne. Her parents believed the word, and with joyful love they vowed to offer her to the Lord: for she is the heavenly tabernacle.
The lovely Virgin being born according to the divine decree, her holy parents led her to the temple, to fulfil their promise, and give her to her Creator. Anne in her joy thus cried out to the priest: Receive this child, lead her into the most secluded parts of the temple surround her with care; for she was given to me as the fruit of my prayers, and in the joy of my faith I promised to devote her to God her Creator: she is the heavenly tabernacle.
Application of the Presentation of Blessed Virgin Mary in our lives.
Religious parents never fail by devout prayer to consecrate their children to the divine service and love, both before and after their birth. Some amongst the Jews, not content with this general consecration of their children, offered them to God in their infancy, by the hands of the priests in the temple, to be lodged in apartments belonging to the temple, and brought up in attending the priests and levites in the sacred ministry. Thus Samuel and others were dedicated to God in their tender age. There were also apartments in which women devoted themselves to the divine service in the temple: witness Josabeth, the wife of Joiada (IV or II Kings, xi. 2; II Par or Chron, xxii. 11), and Anne, the daughter of Phanuel (St. Luke, ii. 37). It is an ancient tradition, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was thus solemnly offered to God in the temple in her infancy. This festival of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, or, as it is often called by the Greeks, the entrance of the Blessed Virgin into the Temple, is mentioned in the most ancient Greek Menologies extant.
By the consecration which the Blessed Virgin made of herself to God in the first use which she made of her reason, we are admonished of the most important and strict obligation which all persons lie under, of an early dedication of themselves to the divine love and service. It is agreed amongst all masters of Christian morality, that everyone is bound in the first moral instant of the use of reason to convert his heart to God by love; and if divine faith be then duly proposed to him (which is the case of Christian children) by a supernatural assent to it, he is bound then to make an act of faith: also an act of hope in God as a supernatural rewarder and helper, and an act of divine charity. Who can be secure that in the very moment in which he entered into his moral life, and was capable of living to God, did not stain his innocence by a capital omission of this duty? Of this we can only judge by the care which is taken in the great duty of prayer about that age. How diligent and solicitous are parents bound to be in instructing their children in the first fundamental mysteries of faith, and in the duty of prayer, and in impressing upon their tender minds a sense of spiritual things in a manner in which their age may be capable of receiving it. These first fruits of the heart are a sacrifice of which God is infinitely jealous, an emblem of which were all the sacrifices of first fruits prescribed in the old law, in token that he is our beginning and last end. Such a heart, adorned with the baptismal grace of innocence, has particular charms. A victim which bears the divine image perfect and entire, without having ever been stained with any spot, or tainted with the least corruption, is most agreeable to God. Grace recovered by penance is not like that of innocence which has never been defiled; nor is it the same happiness for a soul to return to God from the slavery of sin, as for one to give him her first affections, and to open her understanding and will to his love before the world has found any entrance there. This is a present suiting the spotless and infinite sanctity of God, and a pure holocaust most acceptable in his holy eyes. In return he will pour forth his most precious graces upon such a soul, whose affections, on the other side, will flow more easily and strongly toward him, not having been hampered in the inordinate love of creatures, and easily conquering all lets and impediments which might abate their ardour. The tender soul of Mary was then adorned with the most precious graces, an object of astonishment and praise to the angels, and of the highest complacence to the adorable Trinity, the Father looking upon her us his beloved daughter, the Son, as one chosen and prepared to become his mother, and the Holy Ghost as his darling spouse.
Her first presentation to God, made by the hands of her parents and by her own devotion, was then an offering most acceptable in his sight. Let our consecration of ourselves to God be made under her patronage, and assisted by her powerful intercession and the union of her merits. If we have reason to fear that we criminally neglected this duty at the first dawning of our reason, or, if we have since been unfaithful to our sacred baptismal engagements, such is the mercy and goodness of our gracious God, that he disdains not our late offerings. But that these may be accepted by him, we must first prepare the present he requires of us, that is, our hearts. They must be washed and cleansed in the sacred laver of Christ's adorable blood, by means of sincere compunction and penance; and all inordinate affections must be pared away by our perfectly renouncing in spirit, honours, riches, and pleasures, and being perfectly disengaged from creatures, and ready to do and suffer all for God, that we may be entirely his, and that neither the world nor pride, nor any irregular passion may have any place in us. What secret affections to this or that creature lurk in our souls, which hinder us from being altogether his, unless they are perfectly cut off or reformed! What constant watchfulness and fidelity are necessary to maintain and increase the fervour of this consecration of ourselves to God, daily renewing the same, and studying to render it more perfect! This Mary did by spending her youth in holy retirement, at a distance from the commerce and corruption of the world, and by the most assiduous application to all the duties and exercises of a religious and interior life. Mary was the first who set up the standard of virginity; and, by consecrating it by a perpetual vow to our Lord, she opened the way to all virgins who have since followed her example. They, in particular, ought to take her for their special patroness, and, as her life was the most perfect model of their state, they ought always to have her example before their eyes, and imitate her in prayer, humility, modesty, silence, and retirement.
Mary lived retired until she was introduced into the world and espoused to St. Joseph. Some think her espousals were at first only a promise or betrothing: but the ends assigned by the fathers, seem rather to show them to have been a marriage. These are summed up by St Jerom, as follows: that by the pedigree of Joseph, the descent of Mary from the tribe of Juda, might be demonstrated; that she might not be stoned by the Jews as an adulteress; that, fleeing into Egypt, she might have the comfort and protection of a spouse. A fourth reason, says St. Jerom, is added by the martyr Ignatius: that the birth of the Son of God might be concealed from the devil. The words of that apostolic father are: “Three mysteries wrought by God in silence were concealed from the prince of this world: the virginity of Mary, the bringing forth of her Son, and the death of the Lord. Not that God could fear any impediment to his designs from the devil; but he was pleased to effect these mysteries in silence and without worldly show and noise, that pride and hell might, by his all-wise and sweet providence, be more meetly triumphed over, whilst the devil himself hastened his own overthrow by concurring to the mystery of the cross. From the marriage of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, St. Austin shows that marriage requires no more than the mutual consent of the will between parties who lie under no impediment or inability to an indissoluble individual society of life. In this holy marriage we admire the incomparable chastity of Mary and Joseph; and the sanctity and honour, as well as the patronage and example, which that holy state receives from this mystery. In certain particular churches the espousals of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph are honoured with an office on the 23rd of January.
St. Alphonsus Ligouri: As then the holy young child Mary, presented and offered herself in the temple promptly and entirely, so let us, at this day, without delay and without reserve, present ourselves to Mary, and entreat her to offer us to God, who will not refuse us when he sees us offered by the hand of her who was the living temple of the Holy Spirit, the delight of her Lord, and the chosen mother of the Eternal Word. And let us place a great hope in this exalted and most gracious Lady, who rewards with so much love the devotions that are offered to her by her servants.
from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. VI, Edition 1903;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II;
'The Glories of Mary' by St. Alphonsus Ligouri; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Go, then, go, Oh queen of the world, Oh mother of God, go joyfully to the house of the Lord, to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit that will make thee mother of the eternal Word.
(St. Germanus, Archbishop of Constantinople)