THE forty days appointed by the Law were soon past, for when time is spent in quiet retirement with God, and in uniform duties and occupations, it seems to fly on wings of unwonted swiftness. After the Circumcision, there was no incident to break the quiet continuity of the time. Our Lady was occupied in her ministration to our Lord of all the most tender motherly services, and lost in perpetual contemplation of His greatness, and His condescension, and His humiliation. He was obedient to her, letting her arrange for Him and judge for Him, as if He had been indeed a helpless, unconscious Babe, and this added an immense awe and reverence to her services to Him. St. Joseph, perhaps, had to occupy himself to provide some little sustenance for the family, and few but he entered the little room or shed in which our Lord and His Mother were housed. The mystery of the Circumcision had settled once for all any question that might possibly arise as to the observance of all legal prescriptions by our Lady as well as by her Son. She had no need at all of purification, nor need she have presented her First-born in the Temple, as He was already entirely dedicated to His Father, or redeem by a poor offering Him Who was the Redeemer of the whole world. But Mary understood that it must be her great delight to be as our Lord in all these matters. Thus, when the six weeks were drawing to their close, she made with the help of St. Joseph her preparation for the short journey to Jerusalem.
The scene at the Purification of our Blessed Lady has been dwelt on elsewhere at great length, and it is only necessary here to speak of it in especial relation to the particular object of this work. In the first place we are struck that Mary now comes before us for the first time as the principal person in at least a part of the ceremony. For she it was who had to make the offering after her childbirth, as if she had been like any other Jewish mother, to have prayers said for her and a blessing given her by the priest, after which she might again enter the sacred precincts as far as they were open to women. It must have been an immense joy to her to go through this sacred rite, for it gave her an opportunity of sharing in the humiliation of our Lord Himself, Who had under gone the rite of circumcision when there was in Him nothing that could oblige Him to it. So was His Blessed Mother entirely free from all need of purification, and indeed, if the words of the Law were interpreted in their strictest sense, they did not touch her case at all. It was all the greater joy to her to bear her part in the rite, and to receive back again the privilege of admission to the Temple and congregation which she had never really lost. And in so far also as the redemption of her Child by the payment and the offering which were insisted on, belonged to her, it was a joy to her on this account also to discharge the obligation which was not really incumbent on her.
By her humility and faithfulness in this mystery of the Purification, our Lady would rise higher in grace, and would merit some special favours from God on this occasion also. It was no light thing to present to the Eternal Father-the Son of His Love, Incarnate for our sakes, in the Human Nature which He had taken of her. It was done with the most intense devotion, and she offered herself again and again to His service in the deepest gratitude for the gift which had been bestowed upon her. Such an oblation as hers would naturally draw down on her some special grace, in connection with the mystery of our Lord which was now carried out. But it is easy to see that the mystery of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple on this occasion could not have been without some reference to the sacrifice of Himself to the glory of His Father, which was the great desire of His Heart. The words which St. Paul quotes of him, "Sacrifice and oblation Thou wouldst not, but a body Thou hast fitted to Me, holocausts for sin did not please Thee. Then said I, Behold I come, in the head of the book it is written of Me, that I should do Thy will, O God," 1 are said by the Apostle to apply specially to our Lord's entrance in the world. But they may well be applied to this His first entrance into the Temple, and any words that refer to the sacrifice of His Body must include a reference to the oblation of Himself which was to be made on the Cross. Thus we see that the mystery of the Passion of our Lord underlies, in this sense, the mystery of the Presentation in the Temple.
If this indeed be so, then it is not wonderful that, chief among the incidents of this occasion, we should find the first open declaration to our Blessed Lady about the future Passion. If she had been like any other mother, she might have been preparing to leave those holy courts, so dear and so familiar to her, after the sacred rite had been performed, with her heart full of holy happiness, because she had presented her First-born to God and had received Him back again, trusting that the whole of her future life might be spent in harmony with the oblation of that day. But she knew already more about her Divine Child than ordinary mothers could think of as possible for their own children. She must have had many intimations of His future, besides all that her faithful and most intelligent mind could gather from the prophecies and types of the Old Testament, from the sacrificial system of the Law, and the like. Comparing together all the various streams of light which had been imparted to her, she might well know, especially after the Circumcision, that her Son might have to suffer as a sacrifice, because He was called Jesus and was to be the Saviour of the world. But it is one thing to surmise and think likely, or even to have a clear conviction that something sorrowful and painful is to be, and quite another to have what we have thought probable, or even certain, announced to us by some one who has a right to speak on the part of God.
This then was the special crown which was placed on the head of our Blessed Lady, a crown of thorns and grief indeed, when the holy Simeon spoke to her those famous words in which his prophecy was conveyed. He prophesied first of the mission of our Lord as one that was to issue in the fall of many as well as in the resurrection of many. Then he added that our Lord was Himself to be a sign of contradiction, a mark for the obloquy and reviling of men, from whom such treatment could not be expected, inasmuch as He came to save men from their sins and from the consequences of their sins, and had indeed just offered Himself most solemnly to His Father for His execution of this purpose. And then the holy old man added that her own soul also a sword was to pierce—all that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed. Thus then was the future Passion predicted, though not in any fullness of detail. It was rather the opposition and contradiction of men that was predicted, the hardness and perverseness and malignity of the human heart which are the sources of all the opposition with which the loving condescension and advances of God are met, all the more savagely the more loving they are. It was not yet said that our Lord should be done to death by men, for that fullness of revelation was kept back for a later time. But it was added that her own soul should be pierced by a sword, which could be no other than a sword of grief and compassion. She then was to witness the accomplishment of the Divine purpose for which her Son was sent into the world, and she was to have her share in the suffering which it involved.
There the prophecy stopped for the time. It was enough that she should know that what she may have surmised was true, that, as St. Paul said to Agrippa, "the Christ should suffer," and that she was to suffer with Him. It was not the time to draw it all out in detail, what the sufferings of our Lord were to be, how far she should share in them, what would be their glorious effect in those who were to profit by them, and not be ruined by the appearance of the Saviour, what was to be her own share in their fruits, how it was that though no one but Himself could give them their atoning power, she was still to have a share of her own in the application of their merits by her powerful intercession. The foundation of all these points of doctrine was laid, and that was enough for the time.
The incident of the prophecy of Simeon may thus be considered as marking another great advance in the dignity and privileges of our Lady. For now for the first time is the Passion distinctly spoken of in the history, and at this point of its first mention Mary is as distinctly associated therewith. The Passion is not mentioned apart from the Compassion. Thus we may date from this moment the beginning of that "communication of the Passion "to her of which the holy writers speak. It raises her, not only to the throne of the Queen of Sorrows, but to the privilege of having a singular power in bringing home to others the fruits of that supreme sacrifice.
It appears from the words of St. Luke, that immediately after the Purification, the Holy Family returned, not to Bethlehem, but to Nazareth. Nazareth was the home at least of our Lady's family, and perhaps also of some of the near relatives of St. Joseph. If the Annunciation followed, as seems natural, on the Espousals of our Lady after the interval of two months or so, they would have time both before the Visitation and after it to make themselves well known to their neighbours in the little city, many of whom must have been their relatives. Thus their return to Nazareth had in it this much of trial, that the friends and relatives who knew them best, and were likely to cultivate great familiarity with them, would feel the greatest interest in the Child Who had been born to them during their absence, and would treat Him like any other babe of the same age, not knowing with Whom they were dealing. Nor could our Lady or St. Joseph make the Divine secret known, if they had endeavoured to do this, would they have been believed.
Thus the return to her home was a new trial. O, the extreme patience and sweetness of the Blessed Mother. She must give our Lord to be caressed and handled by her relatives, who would have no more thought of behaving to Him with reverence than a person who might by accident take up a consecrated Host thinking It to be unconsecrated. Moreover, there is always great attractiveness about a new-born child, people crowd in to see it and congratulate the mother, and it might be thought churlish in her to refuse to gratify their innocent and friendly curiosity. And yet the slightest want of external reverence would go to the hearts of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, and they would find it a continual struggle to keep silence and to bear in patience many things which were simply the results of ignorance. It was a trial which after wards must have returned during the Hidden Life f but it would be felt more keenly at this time when our Lord was an Infant in His Mother's arms. Even till near the time of the Passion, there were some among the near relatives of our Lord who did not acknowledge Who He was. At the present time the trial did not last long, for it seems that the Holy Family soon left Nazareth in order to settle at Bethlehem, or at least to revisit it. The occasion may have been nothing more than the recurrence of the great feast of the Pasch, at which time it was to be their custom to go up to Jerusalem. Once there, they may have passed on to Bethlehem, and there they may have been found by the Wise Kings from the East. Then the Flight into Egypt became a necessity, and for some considerable space of time the Holy Family was absent from their home. It must always be a question whether they had not migrated to Bethlehem, meaning to reside there, before the visit of the Kings. But this is a matter the discussion of which need hardly be repeated here.

1 Hebrews x. 5—7.