Feast Day: November 21
This liturgical feast is celebrated in both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. The feast dates from 1372 in the Latin Rite, when it was established by a decree of Pope Gregory XI, but it was celebrated in monasteries of southern Italy as early as the ninth century. The Eastern Orthodox Church observed this feast in the sixth century in connection with the dedication of a basilica in Jerusalem in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary (destroyed by the Persians in 614) and is celebrated as one of the 12 Great Feasts.
As with Mary’s birth, we read of Mary’s presentation in the temple only in the apocryphal literature, Protoevangelium of James, which dates from the second century. It tells us that Anna and Joachim offered Mary at the age of three, to God in the temple at Jerusalem to consecrate her to Him and to be educated. This was to carry out a promise made to God when Anna was still childless.
Though it cannot be proven historically, Mary’s presentation has an important theological purpose. It continues the impact of the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and the birth of Mary. It emphasizes that the holiness conferred on Mary from the beginning of her life on earth continued through her early childhood and beyond.
It is sometimes difficult for modern Westerners to appreciate a feast like this. The Eastern Church, however, was quite open to this feast and even somewhat insistent about celebrating it. The event stresses an important truth about Mary: From the beginning of her life, she was dedicated to God. She herself became a greater temple than any made by hands. God entrusted and sanctified her to hold and give in birth, the greatest gift of salvation to humanity, Jesus Christ.
“Hail, holy throne of God, divine sanctuary, house of glory, jewel most fair, chosen treasure house, and mercy seat for the whole world, heaven showing forth the glory of God. Purest Virgin, worthy of all praise, sanctuary dedicated to God and raised above all human condition, virgin soil, unplowed field, flourishing vine, fountain pouring out waters, virgin bearing a child, mother without knowing man, hidden treasure of innocence, ornament of sanctity, by your most acceptable prayers, strong with the authority of motherhood, to our Lord and God, Creator of all, your Son who was born of you without a father, steer the ship of the church and bring it to a quiet harbor” —(adapted from a homily by Saint Germanus on the Presentation of the Mother of God).
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar.” New York: Alba House, 1992.
Featured Painting: Wikimedia Commons