Today the Church celebrates a mysterious event remembered as the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This event is celebrated both in the Catholic Church of the West and the Orthodox Churches of the East and its origins take us back in time to the earliest centuries of the Church’s life.
The Presentation recalls the dedication of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a child to God, as her parents, graced with foresight about the extraordinary mission their daughter would bear, brought her to the great temple of Jerusalem and declared before the priests that the life of their child would belong to the Lord.
This event is not recalled in the Scriptures, but has been remembered and celebrated by faithful Christians for many centuries.
The scripture that the Church assigns as the first reading for today’s Mass is an excerpt from the book of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah.
Zechariah lived during a time of restoration and renewal. The Israelites returned to their ancestral lands after a long exile in Babylon. Remember, one of the pivotal events of the Old Testament is when the city of Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians in the year 587 BC. Zechariah is a priest who returns to the land of Israel around the year 520 BC and sets about rebuilding the temple of Jerusalem.
This context helps us to make sense of today’s scripture in which Zechariah foresees the return of the divine presence to his newly rebuilt sanctuary. Remember, the temple of Jerusalem was not just a civic center or faith based entertainment venue but the place where heaven came down to earth and the divine presence of God had a home.
The Church presents this text from Zechariah as indicating how the apostolic faith understands the mission of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she would literally become in her own body a temple for God. In her body, heaven came to earth and the divine presence of God had a home. The body of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the place where the Lord God “stirs forth from his holy dwelling”.
The Church believes that the Blessed Virgin Mary had been set apart for this mission even before she was born. She was predestined to be a living sanctuary for God in Christ, and through her, the divine presence of God would be revealed to the world as Christ the Lord.
This signals to us that while the Blessed Virgin Mary is like us inasmuch as she is totally and completely human (the Blessed Virgin Mary is not a goddess or a demi-goddess) yet she has been given a mission that is and will always be unique. None of us will ever be the Mother of God. None of us will ever be related to Christ as she is related to him. She is, as the poet William Wordsworth aptly praised her, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast”.
Yet, as Christ reminds us in the Gospel, inasmuch as we conform our minds and hearts to his will, we are like the Blessed Virgin Mary, even if our mission is different from hers.
And further, when we accept the divine presence of the Lord Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament with reverence and love, we become ourselves, like the Mother of God, living sanctuaries and bearers of the divine presence of Christ into the world.
On this day on which the Church recalls the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we recall her mission and re-dedicate ourselves to our own mission in Christ. Let us conform our wills to Christ’s will and in our humble acceptance of the Blessed Sacrament, create in our own bodies a sanctuary for the Lord, so that, we might, in imitation of the Mother of God, bear into the world the life and presence of Christ the Lord.