Today we celebrate the Memorial of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple as a child. This celebration was first documented in Jerusalem in the 500s (there was a church built in honor of this mystery), and then in the Byzantine Church in the 11th century; it was not added to the Roman Calendar until a few hundred years later. It remains on the calendar today as a commemoration of the faith of her parents (St. Joachim and St. Anne) as well as the purity of Mary from her birth.

While there is nothing about this event in the Gospel and no historical proof, the Tradition holds that Joachim and Anne offered Mary to God in the Temple when she was just three years old to fulfill a promise they had made when Anne was still childless. This was not unheard of: many devout Jews offered their children to God through the priests of the Temple (like the prophet Samuel being offered by his mother, Hannah), to live there and to be brought up attending the priests in their sacred work.

The theological truth to ponder is that from the beginning of her life, Mary was dedicated to God in the Temple of the Old Covenant. Later, she herself would become the Temple of the New Covenant, a real temple of God, when the Word became Flesh within her.

Why is this something we should ponder and celebrate? Because it points to Christ. Whatever the Church states about Mary it states in reference to Christ, because of her role in the context of the Redemption. God was preparing to come to dwell among his people, and he “stirs forth from his holy dwelling” (Zec 2:17), he does great things for Mary (Lk 1:46-55) to prepare the way. Her absolute purity was necessary for the role God had called her to fulfill. The Mother of the Word of God must be free from any shadow of sin from the first moment of her existence. She must be “full of grace” in order to be able to receive the mission brought to her from God through Gabriel. She must be completely submissive to God’s will to walk the obscure way marked out for her, all the way to the Cross and beyond.

We honor Mary’s holiness because it comes from God. We honor her faith and hope because they are directed solely to God. We honor her motherhood because it belongs to Christ, and he shared it with us. Her life was dedicated to God; she was truly and always “the handmaid of the Lord.” And in today’s Gospel, Jesus honors his mother’s fidelity and humility when he says, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother”, because Mary always did the will of the heavenly Father.

And she helps us, because we too are temples of God, called to share in God’s saving work by doing always the will of the heavenly Father.  

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Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose was a 4th-century bishop, influential theologian, defender of orthodoxy, and mentor to Saint Augustine, known for his eloquence and strong moral stance.
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