Ven. Mary of Agreda “The Mystical City of God’ (abridged) on HER PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE
The three years’ time decreed by the Lord having been completed, Joachim and Anne set out from Nazareth, accompanied by a few of their kindred and bringing with them the true living Ark of the covenant, the most holy Mary, borne on the arms of her mother in order to be deposited in the holy temple of Jerusalem. The beautiful child, by her fervent and loving aspirations, hastened after the ointments of her Beloved, seeking in the temple Him, whom she bore in her heart.
This humble procession was scarcely noticed by earthly creatures, but it was invisibly accompanied by the angelic spirits, who, in order to celebrate this event, had hastened from heaven in greater numbers than ordinary as her bodyguard, and were singing in heavenly strains the glory and praise of the Most High. The Princess of heaven heard and saw them as she hastened her beautiful steps along in the sight of the highest and true Solomon. Thus they pursued their journey from Nazareth to the holy city of Jerusalem, and also the parents of the holy child Mary felt in their hearts great joy and consolation of spirit.
They arrived at the holy temple, and the blessed Anne on entering took her daughter and mistress by the hand, accompanied and assisted by Saint Joachim. All three offered a devout and fervent prayer to the Lord; the parents offering to God their daughter, and the most holy child, in profound humility, adoration and worship, offering up herself. She alone perceived that the Most High received and accepted her, and, amid divine splendor which filled the temple, she heard a voice saying to her: “Come, my beloved, my spouse, come to my temple, where I wish to hear thy voice of praise and worship.”
Having offered their prayers, they rose and betook themselves to the priest. The parents consigned their child into his hands and he gave them his blessing. Together conducted her to the portion of the temple building where many young girls lived to be brought up in retirement and in virtuous habits, until old enough to assume the state of matrimony, It was a place of retirement especially selected for the first-born daughters of the royal tribe of Juda and the sacerdotal tribe of Levi.
Fifteen stairs led up to the entrance of these apartments. Other priests came down these stairs in order to welcome the blessed child Mary. The one that had received them, being according to the law one of a minor order, placed her on the first step. Mary, with his permission, turned and kneeling down before Joachim and Anne, asked their blessing and kissed their hands, recommending herself to their prayers before God. The holy parents in tenderest tears gave her their blessing; whereupon she ascended the fifteen stairs without any assistance. She hastened upward with incomparable fervor and joy, neither turning back, nor shedding tears, nor showing any childish regret at parting from her parents. To see her, in so tender an age, so full of strange majesty and firmness of mind, excited the admiration of all those present.
The priests received her among the rest of the maidens, and Saint Simeon consigned her to the teachers, one of whom was the prophetess Anna. This holy matron had been prepared by the Lord by especial grace and enlightenment, so that she joyfully took charge of this Child of Joachim and Anne. She considered the charge a special favor and of divine Providence and merited by her holiness and virtue to have her as a disciple, who was to be the Mother of God and Mistress of all the creatures.
Sorrowfully her parents Joachim and Anne retraced their journey to Nazareth, now poor as deprived of the rich treasure of their house. But the Most High consoled and comforted them in their affliction. The holy priest Simeon, although he did not at this time know of the mystery enshrined in the child Mary, obtained great light as to her sanctity and her special selection by the Lord; also the other priests looked upon her with great reverence and esteem. In ascending the stairs the child brought to fulfillment, that, which Jacob saw happening in sleep; for here too were angels ascending and descending: the ones accompanying, the others meeting their Queen as she hastened up; whereas at the top God was waiting in order to welcome her as His daughter and spouse. She also felt by the effects of the overflowing love, that this truly was the house of God and the portal of heaven.
Mary’s presentation was celebrated in Jerusalem in the sixth century. A church was built there in honor of this mystery. The Eastern Church was more interested in the feast, but it does appear in the West in the 11th century. Although the feast at times disappeared from the calendar, in the 16th century it became a feast of the universal Church.
As with Mary’s birth, we read of Mary’s presentation in the temple only in apocryphal literature. In what is recognized as an unhistorical account, the Protoevangelium of James tells us that Anna and Joachim offered Mary to God in the Temple when she was three years old. 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 of 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. Even though the feast has no basis in history, it 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 came to dwell in her in a marvelous manner and sanctified her for her unique role in God’s saving work. At the same time, the magnificence of Mary redounds upon her children. They, too, are temples of God and sanctified in order that they might enjoy and share in God’s saving work.
THE PRESENTATION OF MARY: Commemorated November 21
It stands to reason that Almighty God’s selection of the Virgin Mary to be the Mother of God was not a random selection.
In his wisdom, God selected not from the nobility but from the humble, thoroughly devout, daughter of equally devout parents whose names were Joachim and Anna. Tradition has it that Anna, childless for many years, reached a point in her life when just short of despair she prayed in earnest that God grant her a child with a promise that should her wish be fulfilled she would pledge the child to his holy Temple. It did not matter to Anna that the child granted her by God was a girl and, faithful to her word, she presented her daughter, given the name of Mary, to the holy Temple at the age of three, on the 21st of November.
She remained in the house of God for twelve years, emerging at the age of fifteen with a purity and wholesomeness found in no other creature of God. By the time she had been released to her parents, the saintly Mary was not only a flawless maiden but in her twelve years had acquired the lore and religion of the deepest scholars, something usually denied a female child of those days.
So much has been written of the Lord’s mother that the concern here is for a glimpse into her life as a human being. The Virgin Mary is looked upon by Orthodoxy as “Panagia,” which translates into the all-encompassing saint. Greek Orthodox Christians need but one name and that name is “Panagia,” carrying the full impact on the Christian faith as no other name can regardless of the language. The beginnings of Christianity were not the scattered remnants that somehow merged into a smattering, of ideologies. By divine intent the great religion of Christ stemmed from a tight circle which spread itself out as the greatest of human experiences.
To begin with, the high priest entrusted with the care of Mary was Zacharias, who in turn was the father of St. John the Baptist, referred to as the prefiguration of the Messiah and the man who was to baptise Jesus Christ…
Our Lady’s parents, Sts. Anne & Joachim, presented her in the temple when she was a small child. From her earliest years Mary led a life of prayer. She said “yes” to God’s will. “We wish to love the Lord Jesus with the heart of the Immaculate, receiving Him and thanking Him with her acts; thus, even if we should neither feel nor understand it, in fact we will honor the Lord Jesus with her heart, with her acts; or to speak more exactly, it will be she who through us loves and praises Jesus. We are but her instruments”
(St. Maximilian Kolbe).
The Presentation of Mary in the Temple
To understand what she was like then,
you have to imagine yourself in a place
in which columns affect you;
where you can retrace stairs
where arches full of danger
bridge the chasm of a space
that remained within you,
because it had been made, towering,
of such pieces that you can no longer
remove them from yourself lest you demolished yourself.
If you have reached that state, if everything within you
is stone, wall, ramp, view, curve, then try
to remove the big curtain in front of you
with both hands:
it sparkles of very noble things
and surpasses your breath and touch.
Up, down, palace built upon palace,
Railings stream wider from within railings,
and surface above surface on such edges
that vertigo, as you can see, grasps you.
Clouds of incense diffuse what is close,
but still the most distant aims right
inside of you with its straight rays –
and now, when the glow from clear bowls
of flame plays on slowly approaching robes:
how can you bear it?
She, however, came and raised her eyes
to view all this.
(A child, a little girl among women)
Then she ascended silently, filled with confidence,
towards the spoiled luxury which made way for her:
For that is how much everything that men built had
already been exceeded by the praise within her heart;
by the desire to give herself to the signs within her:
The parents wanted to lift her up,
the looming figure with the bejeweled chest
seemed to receive her:
But she passed through everyone,
small as she ways, slipped from every hand
into her destiny, which, higher than the hall,
was ready, and heavier than the temple.
Composed by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Gerald Augustinus)