In the small chapel of St. Anne at Aylesford Priory there is a simple depiction of the Presentation of Mary in ceramics by Adam Kossowski. The chapel is dedicated as the Family Chapel. There are prayers for Grandparents noting their role of passing on their faith to future generations. There is also a very lively and colourful painting of the Presentation of Our Lady in our Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Faversham by Edward Ardizzone.
We celebrate the Presentation of Mary in the Temple on 21st November as the emperor Justinian had a new church built to Mary in the Temple area of Jeursalam dedicated on this date in 543. Though the church was destroyed by the Persians within the century, the feast day continued in the Eastern Church and became one of the important celebrations in honour of Mary. However, it was not until the Middle Ages that it was commemorated in the West. It has been celebrated in England since the fourteenth century.
What are we celebrating as there is no mention of the early life of Mary in the scriptures? The story of the Presentation of Mary has come down to us through one of the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James. This is one of the books that was not accepted into the canon of the Bible. This book tells of the meeting of Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem. They were childless for some years until an angel appeared to them and Anne gave birth to Mary. Anne and Joachim knew from the angel that this girl would be a sacred child with a special mission from God. Mary was taken to the temple by her parents to dedicate her to God. Though this story is a legend and has no foundation in history, nor was it the practice at the time to take children to dedicate them in the temple, the point of the story is that even in her childhood Mary was dedicated to God. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) wrote that: “Mary conceived Jesus in her heart before she conceived Jesus in her womb”. The feast of the Presentation in the Eastern Church was as important as the Immaculate Conception is in the West. Both remind us that Mary was set apart by God from her conception.
The first reading for the Mass of Presentation of Mary is from the prophet Zechariah (2: 14-11-17). The prophet is writing at the time of the returning of the Babylonian exiles between 520-519 B.C. Jerusalem is the Daughter of Zion who sings and rejoices as the Lord is coming to be in their midst. Some biblical scholars see Mary as the personification of the Daughter of Zion. There was a refugee camp outside the northern wall of Jerusalem at Zion. So, the association of Mary with the Daughter of Zion connects her with the poor, the lowly, the humble of heart and all those who wait patiently for God to deliver them. The prophet breaks away from the narrow view of the past to write that many nations will gather to be God’s holy people.
The Gospel for that day comes from Matthew (12: 46-50). It is the meeting of Jesus with his mother and family members. This story also appears in both the Gospel of Mark (3: 31-35) and Luke (8: 19-21). While Mark’s account is harsh both Matthew and Luke soften their account of the encounter between Jesus and his family.
Jesus is speaking to a crowd when he is told that his mother and brothers are outside. Jesus tells the crowd: “My mother, brothers, and sisters are those who do the will of my Father in Heaven.” Jesus is emphasising the difference between his physical and spiritual family. Mary was undoubtedly part of both as she was consecrated to God at her conception and became the first disciple of Jesus.
This is an apt Gospel for the Presentation as Mary was a woman of faith from her early childhood and the will of the Father became the deepest of reality for the whole of her life and being. She was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation; she stood at the foot of the cross and became a model of watchful prayer waiting with the apostles for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Mary is the model of the church in its perfection and as mother she watches over the Pilgrim Church with maternal love.
Fr. Francis Kemsley O.Carm
Note: Shortly after writing this reflection the author, Fr Francis died (Oct 2023) – Please keep him in your prayers.