Feast of the Day – Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
November 21 is the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast is based on material from the Proto-Gospel of James – an apocryphal gospel that did not make it into the canon of scripture. Mary is presented in the temple at age 3 by her aging parents in fulfillment of a vow that they made.
This is an archetypal pattern of a very special child born to aged parents who is destined for great things by God. The birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sara is the first example. The birth of the prophet Samuel to Elkanah and Hannah comes about after the barren Hannah is told by Eli, the priest at Shiloh, that her prayer would be heard. In the New Testament, John the Baptist is born to Zachary and Elizabeth according to the promise of the angel. The feast of the Presentation appears to have come from Syria in the 6th century and became prominent in the West in the 11th century. However, the Presentation did not become a universal feast until the 15th century.
Although the four canonical gospels do not mention the Presentation, the devotion of the early Church to Mary as the Mother of God makes it easier to understand why there would be such a tradition. St. John the Baptist’s prominence is emphasized by the nature of his birth. Certainly, one might suspect that the apocryphal account would resonate with Christians as giving prominence to Mary and the importance of her role. While one could argue that the Annunciation is more than ample in terms of underscoring Mary’s importance, the Presentation can be seen as a reasonable corollary.
The Second Vatican Council (1961-1965), in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in the Modern World – Lumen Gentium – restated the ancient belief in Mary as our mother in the order of grace.
Predestined from eternity by that decree of divine providence which determined the incarnation of the Word to be the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin was in this earth the virgin Mother of the Redeemer, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth and nourished Christ. She presented Him to the Father in the temple, and was united with Him by compassion as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace. (Lumen Gentium The Light of Nations chap 8, III,61)
Although we might have some reservations about the feast of the Presentation as a speculative notion by early Christians, there is a modern psychological explanation that underscores its development. Mary came from a devoted family who rejoiced at her birth because she was truly God’s answer to prayer for her parents. Such love, even in secular psychological terms, is always grace filled and grace giving.