The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Today’s festival is called the Presentation of Mary, because on this day Joachim and Anna, the holy parents of the Blessed Virgin, consecrated their little daughter to the divine service in the temple at Jerusalem, and Mary consecrated herself to the Almighty. 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. To this end several separate dwellings had been erected in connection with the Temple, for men, women, youths and maidens, where they remained for the time which had been fixed by themselves or their parents. Their occupations consisted in decorating the temple, and in 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. In the second book of the Maccabees, we find mention of virgins, who lived and were educated in the Temple, that is, in a building annexed to it.
It is the belief of several holy Fathers, that Joachim and Anna, being already advanced in years and having no issue, made a vow to God that if He would bless them with a child, and thus take from them the dishonor of being barren, they would consecrate their offspring to His service in the Temple. God heard their prayer and blessed them so greatly that they became the parents of the most holy of all human beings, Mary, the ever Blessed Virgin. For three years they kept this sacred treasure at home, after which time, although Mary was their only comfort, they resigned her with pious fortitude, in fulfilment of their vow. Hence they went, with their daughter, to Jerusalem, presented her to the priest in the Temple and consecrated her, through his hands, to the service of the Almighty.
But who can worthily describe the devotion and veneration which Mary manifested at the consecration! She had not only consented cheerfully, but as, notwithstanding her tender years, she was already possessed of her full reason, and knew better than any one else, in heaven or on earth, the Majesty of Him to whom she was consecrated, she had longed for the moment when she was to be given to Him. She went therefore most joyfully to the Temple, her heart full of devotion and love towards God and a fervent desire to serve Him. The priest was at first greatly astonished, not only at the unusual beauty of the little child, but still more at the devotion she showed in such extreme youth. When her parents had given her in charge to the priest, the latter took her to the Altar, to which there was an ascent of fifteen steps on the first of which he placed her. Having in a few words bade her parents farewell, the little maiden went joyfully and unaided, from the lowest step to the highest, and casting herself down before the Altar, she consecrated herself to the Almighty with such humility and reverence, that all present were deeply moved. Her consecration differed greatly from that of all other children. Many were brought to the temple only because their parents desired it, and without their own knowledge of the reasons for which it was done. Others wept bitterly at parting with their parents. No other at that tender age, had understood the ceremony, and none had made the consecration with such entire devotion to the Lord.
The Blessed Virgin, however, already gifted with reason, not only consented to the sacrifice thus made by her parents to God, but consecrated herself, entirely and with a happy heart, to His service. How pleasing this sacrifice must have been to the Lord, words are unable to express. It is quite certain that, from the creation of the world until that time, no sacrifice had been so pleasing to Him as that which Mary offered in her own person. Abel, Noah, Aaron, and many more, had sacrificed to the Lord the fruits of the Earth, or dumb brutes; but Mary offered herself. Many parents had consecrated their children to the service of God, but Mary surpassed them all in innocence and grace, in heavenly virtues and gifts; hence it cannot be doubted that her sacrifice surpassed all others, and was more agreeable to the Almighty. After the consecration. Mary was taken into the dwelling of the maidens destined to serve the Most High, and was numbered among them. There she remained until her marriage with St. Joseph.
Her conduct during this period can be more easily imagined than described; but it is certain that it was more like an angel’s than like that of a human being. Her occupation was prayer, reading, meditation and work. In the works of St. Jerome there is a sermon on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, in which the life she led in the Temple is thus described: “She endeavored to surpass in goodness all those with whom she dwelt; to be the first in the nightly vigils; to understand Holy Writ most thoroughly; to be the most humble; to sing the Pslams of David most devoutly; to love God most fervently; to be the most chaste; in a word, to be the first in all virtues, in order to honor the Almighty, and to prove her love to Him. God was the only subject of her conversation. She prayed without ceasing and meditated on the law of the Lord.” St. Ambrose, in his instructions to those who had vowed perpetual chastity, gives them Mary as an example, saying emphatically, that her life had been such that it might serve as a model to all. “Mary,” he writes “was virgin, not only in body, but also in heart and mind. She was modest in her speech, and humble of heart. She offended no one, had every one’s welfare at heart, avoided pride and loved virtue. Nothing bold was in her gaze, nothing frivolous in words, nothing that was in the least immodest in all her manners. Her body was the index of her mind, a model of piety. She went not to rest until necessity required it, and when her body rested, her soul remained awake.” This and much more, the above mentioned Father writes, in praise of the Blessed Virgin.
St. Bonaventure relates a vision in which the Divine Mother said to a holy person: “I arose always in the middle of the night, went to the Altar of the Temple, and presented my homage and desires to the Almighty.” These desires were for the grace of loving God above all things and with her whole heart; of her neighbor for God’s sake; of keeping the Commandments of the Lord, and of hating everything that was displeasing to Him. The same holy teacher says also: “Mary was very solicitous that none of her companions should in the least offend the Lord, but that they should always praise Him and never indulge in idle words.” He writes further, that Mary occupied her thoughts with holy contemplations, her mouth with devout prayers; but, at the same time used her hands in sacred work, and admonished others to do the same. Several Holy Fathers write that the Blessed Virgin, soon after entering the Temple, consecrated her virginity to the Lord. Others, with greater reason, maintain that this had been done before, and as soon as she had been conceived, since she was gifted even then with the full use of her reason. The Holy Fathers Ambrose, Jerome, Rupert, Bernard, and many others, think that the Blessed Virgin was the first who made a vow of chastity, and thus set an example, which many thousands, desiring to serve the Lord more perfectly, have followed and are still following.
It is quite certain that the Blessed Virgin, from the first use of her reason until the end of her life, always endeavored to do what she knew would make her more perfect, and thus unite her more closely with the Almighty. Hence it is easy to conclude, that she gathered such a treasure of merits, as no Saint ever did or will possess. St. Bonaventure and St. Bernardine of Sienna apply to her the words of the Proverbs of Solomon: “Many daughters have gathered riches, but thou hast surpassed them all.” Many daughters, they say, means, many souls, many Saints have gathered riches in merits; but Mary surpasses them all, as well in grace, as in virtues and merits. Hence it follows that her glory in heaven is above that of all other Saints; for which reason she is called by the Catholic Church Queen of All Saints. Nothing is more just than that we duly honor so great a Queen, and invoke her with confidence; for the higher she stands above all other Saints, the more powerful is her intercession with God.
In the third year of her life, Mary, the Blessed Virgin, consecrated herself to the service of the Almighty, and this, not for days or years only, but for ever; for, as long as she lived, she ceased not to serve the Lord. How is it with you? Did you also begin in your tender years to serve the Lord. Or to whom did you dedicate the years of your life? Ah! confess it with weeping eyes and repentant heart, not to the Lord, but to world, to the flesh, to Satan, you gave the years of your youth; and perhaps you have not even made the resolution to serve your God; or it may be, you think it will be time enough when you are old, though it is unknown to you, whether you will ever count many years. But even had you been assured of this, tell me, do you not deserve to be disowned by the Almighty as a second Cain, since like him, you sacrificed only what was a less value, and not, like the pious Abel, what was the best? God cursed him who took from his flock the meanest for his offering. This Curse you also deserve for not having given to the Lord your first and best years, but reserving your old age for Him. Oh! truly you have reason to weep over this wickedness as long as you live. Humbly beg God to pardon you, and resolve, at the same time, to serve Him from this hour most fervently and without ceasing until your end, as the Blessed Virgin did. You have perhaps but a short time more: hence employ ever moment in the service of God. The benefit will be yours, and will last through all eternity.
In consecrating herself to the Almighty, the Blessed Virgin gave herself entirely to Him without any reservation. Soul and body, every power of her soul, ever member of her body, her whole heart and life, all was given for evermore to the service of the Most High. Doubtless you resolve today to serve your Lord most fervently for the future. Consecrate yourself, then, today to His service, but without any reservation, your whole heart, your entire life, your soul with all its powers, your entire body with all its members, sacrifice all willingly and for evermore to the Lord. God Who desires the whole heart and not a part of it, wishes also your whole soul, your whole body, your entire life. Do you wish to divide your heart and to give one part of it to the Almighty the other to the world and Satan? to serve God with one member of your body, and to offend Him with another? Do you wish to employ your memory to honor God with good thoughts, but to soil your will with wicked desires? Oh! then do not imagine that your sacrifice will be acceptable to God. It will rather be a horror in the eyes of Him Who commands us to serve Him alone, and to sacrifice everythying to His service. Make today, a perfect sacrifice, so that you may, at least in something, follow the Blessed Virgin. And take care that you do not, after the lapse of some time, retract your sacrifice.
You consecrate, today, your eyes, your tongue, and your hands, with the intention to use them only in God’s service. Guard yourself, lest, after some hours or days, you misuse them in offending the Lord, for, this would be as mush robbing the Altar of what you have given to the Most High. Mary did not act thus. It is written: “I am the Lord that hate robbery in a holocaust, (Isai. lxi.)
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.