On the fifteenth day after the birth, as was the custom for girls, came the ceremony of giving the name. There are so many examples in Scripture where God Himself names His servants, that it is hardly possible to believe that the name of His mother was left to chance or to the mere human will. Without doubt heaven itself had chosen for her the name formerly borne by the sister of Moses, Miriam, perhaps pronounced Mary am towards the end of our era, and which we write Mary. 2
This name, especially if God Himself had indicated it, was very suitable for this child so singularly blessed. But the secret of the exact symbolism has not hitherto been discovered. In bringing forward various hypotheses we cannot say with certainty what was, in the days of the Exodus, its original etymology, or what meaning was attached to it in the time of Anne and Joachim. 3
At the dawn of the Christian era, the land of Israel was near enough to Syria, by language as well as geographically, for a Syriac name to be possibly borne by a Jewess, or perhaps for a Jewish name, even though contrary to its primitive sense, to be commonly interpreted by a Syriac word of approximate meaning. In fact, the Syriac mar, lord, has apparently given the feminine name Martha, lady or mistress. To interpret Maryam in the same sense is not grammatically correct. It does not however seem impossible that the people interpreted it thus, as later, certain Fathers have translated Mary as " lady " or " sovereign." Without going beyond the limits of the Hebrew language the word could have almost the same meaning, that of " exalted" and " powerful." Perhaps Mary might even be " the illuminatrice," and that name would admirably suit her who made the light of Christ to rise upon the world and upon the souls of men. Finally modern interpreters find rather in that name the sense of beauty. That beauty which is in strength and in blessedness, that of the fulness of grace, and of the august queen of heaven. And yet again, as other biblical names are borrowed from trees or the most graceful flowers, that of Mary recalls myrrh from which flows one of the precious perfumes of the east; and by that, it expresses symbolically grace and fragrance, bitterness and incorruption.
Perhaps it is because of the gracious ideas which it suggests that mothers so frequently choose this name for their daughters. But God reserved to Himself to bestow upon her, this woman above all others, the fulness of its signification. And those who later bear this name in her honour should endeavour to reproduce in their souls some features of her spiritual beauty.
It was fitting that such a child should grow up as near as possible to the sanctuary ; her place, indicated beforehand, and as was quite natural, was in the shadow of the house of God. Her parents did not contend for her with Him who desired her entirely for Himself, and whose claims, love, and influence upon her, so far surpassed their claims, their cares and their affection. Perhaps they had even beforehand vowed her to His service and to His Temple. So great was the ardour of her soul to seek God and to give herself to Him, that she could only wish to conceive or to confirm such a vow.
Also, provided that one is careful to avoid a certain number of details evidently legendary, borrowed from the apocryphal gospels, there is no difficulty in admitting in substance that the child Mary was brought to the Temple, there offered to God, and lived in some building belonging to it during the time of her education. This fact, it is true, is not supported by historical evidence as trustworthy as one could wish ; and, on the other hand, the Church, when it recalls this episode to remembrance in the feast of the Presentation of Mary, does not profess to give its seal of authority to the whole. Nevertheless, the purely historical presumption is favourable to the common opinion, for the childhood of Mary formed a remarkable portion of her life. And, though in olden times much may have been unknown concerning the life of Our Lady, it seems probable that it would have been known whether her first years were, or were not, passed under the paternal roof. But antiquity has not handed down to us any tradition opposed to the current belief ; ancient authors, when they speak explicitly of the childhood of Mary, place her in the Temple and nowhere else. It appears then, that the fact of her education near the holy place may have made part of the historic sketch transmitted by the first Christian generation. The authors of the Protevangelium of James, of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and of the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary embroider a good deal upon that foundation, but they do not appear to have invented it. And, on other grounds than those purely historical, the fact that the Greek Fathers have so commonly admitted and preached of the Presentation in the Temple, that the churches of the East have made a feast day of it from very early times, and that the Roman Church itself has for several centuries observed it as a feast, constitute a weighty argument in favour of this tradition.
There is therefore nothing improbable in the statement that a child was thus offered to God and brought up near His Temple. On the contrary, a certain number of documents agree with the testimony of Christian antiquity.
We know, by the holy Scriptures, that people could " consecrate their souls to the Lord," and that this vow could be taken by women as well as by men, by children as well as by adults. 4
Frequently, as the text itself indicates, people liberated themselves from similar vows by way of redemption. But could they not also as well fulfil them, by the gift to the Temple of their persons and their services ? The only reason for doubting this in the case of women, is that it might be questioned whether there was any office or employment for them near the holy place.
But here again, several indications seem to favour the tradition. We could, it is true, doubt seriously whether the " virgins that were shut up," who, at the moment of the attempted sacrilege of Heliodorus, ran in great terror towards the high priest, were really those who had been brought up in the Temple 5 ; it is quite possible that in this case they may have been simply young girls who were living in seclusion under the paternal roof. But, setting aside this obscure and doubtful text, other passages and other reasons suggest that women could work for the sanctuary, and even associate themselves in a special manner with the liturgy. From the time of Moses and Aaron, the women "that were wise hearted," embroidered for the Tabernacle linen cloths and stuffs richly dyed in colours of violet and purple 6 ; and it is clear that those who were most devoted to the God of Israel could always occupy themselves with similar work. Formerly, in the religious processions, women and young girls played upon timbrels, and repeated the refrains of the canticles. 7 It is even possible that a choir of women, at least sometimes, and at a little distance, joined in the liturgical chants of the Temple. Finally and above all, the Bible makes mention twice of women who, in the remote times of Mosaic worship, formed a kind of guard of honour at the entrance to the Tabernacle. 8 Perhaps it is to one of these passages, perhaps to some tradition not recorded in Scripture, that Saint Ambrose made allusion when he said, " We read that there were virgins attached to the Temple even at Jerusalem. 9 " It seems natural, and it is a thing quite commonly admitted, that there must have been some habitation in the immediate neighbourhood of the sacred precincts, for those women whose functions brought them most frequently within those precincts. For this purpose there may have been houses very near the Temple, there may have been even in the Temple itself, some of those rooms and lodgings which are often referred to in the Bible,10 and which Josephus is careful to mention. 11 The fact that Joash was, for six years, hidden in that retreat with his nurse and Jehosheba, 12 suffices to prove that women were not excluded.
We know what was the arrangement of the Temple. It was a traditional arrangement; the same in the post-exile reconstruction as in the work of Solomon and his successors; the arrangement preserved by Herod when he rebuilt, on a larger scale, the Temple of Zerubbabel. 13 Courts and buildings covered a huge rectangle upon the summit of mount Moriah. The " house of God," that is to say, the sanctuary properly so called, comprising the " Holy Place " and the " Holy of Holies," was the spiritual centre of the whole, though it did not occupy the geometrical centre. It was placed halfway, or very nearly so, between the north and south sides of the area, but much nearer the west side to which its chevet was set very close, than to the east side. In front of the entrance to this sanctuary, which entrance was turned towards the east because the " house of God " extended towards the interior of the rectangle, was erected, open to the sky, the great altar upon which sacrifices were consumed by fire. Then, enclosing the altar and the sanctuary on the north, east and south sides, and surrounding both, extended two rectangular concentric courts in which the worshippers assembled in the open air ; that of the priests and Levites, and that of the people of Israel, of which a separate part was called the court of the women. Herod—who commenced the rebuilding of the Temple about the time that Mary was brought to it—surrounded the whole of this by a much larger court, the court of the Gentiles. The courts were separated from each other not only by balustrades, but by passages also, notwithstanding the inconvenience of obstructing, for a great number, the view of the altar and the sacrifices by actual buildings. It was then, in all probability, in one of those buildings nearest to the exterior, that the dwelling of those who were more especially consecrated to the service of God should be sought. There, without doubt, wives of the priests or widows brought up in piety some chosen children, those probably who, because of a vow, were brought to pass their youth near the holy place.
In obtaining admittance for their holy child, Anne and Joachim probably found a useful coadjutor in their relative, the priest Zacharias. When they brought her to the temple, according to the apocryphal gospels and the Greek Fathers, Mary was three years old. This detail is not supported by history, but it is not without some semblance of truth. Three years, in the customs of the Jews, ended the period of nursing, and the parents of Samuel, when he had reached that age, hastened to present their son at the Tabernacle of Shiloh. Why should the parents of Mary, if they also were bound by a vow, have been less eager to accomplish it ? More especially as, where God Himself is concerned, Scripture always reveals to us a certain readiness to welcome the first fruits, especially when the first fruits are excellent.
As far as we can, by analogy, 1 conjecture what passed on the day of presentation, Anne and Joachim offered a sacrifice, and going with their child into the court of the women, they worshipped God, gave thanks to Him, and implored Him to accept their most pure offering, more precious than any burnt offering which they could bring before His altar. Then Mary was separated from those whom she already loved with all her young and tender heart, who were more to her than any one save God Himself; and whilst the saintly elders watched her from a distance, the women brought her to that part of the Temple where she would for the future be brought up.
The ancient chroniclers are pleased to say that Mary walked with rapid steps, without turning her head, and that no one heard her, as is usually the case with children of her age, ask again for her parents. This was but the legendary and naive expression of the incontestable truth that the Virgin, in her progress towards God, knew neither delay nor hesitation; she gave herself simply, entirely, and without reserve; no earthly tie held her in her straight and rapid ascension, with her heart yearning towards infinite goodness.
1 Tertullian: de resurrectione carnis, vi. (PL. ii. 802). D19
2 In the Pentateuch, the Massoretic reading is Miryâm. But the Septuagint transcribes Maryam and the Evangelists also write Maryam and sometimes Maria. It should be pronounced, not Ma-ri-am, but the y (jod) as a consonant, Mar-yam, in two syllables.
3 The most recent and complete work upon the name of Mary is that by Bardenhewer (Der Name Maria, 1895). The list of meanings discussed in the volume, number 67. A certain number, it is true, cannot be distinguished separately as they are interchangeable ; and a certain number also are evidently untenable. We may, however, inquire how so many different interpretations of the same word have been brought together, and how it is that there still remains room for doubt. Here are some indications, too brief to be complete, but which will at least aid us in understanding this. 1st. The word came from Egypt with the sister of Moses, and we should therefore seek an Egyptian etymology for it. In that case it would perhaps have the meaning of "well-beloved " (see Hurnmelauer, in Exodtim, p. 161). It has also been tried, it appears, to find authority in Egyptology for " Star of the Sea" (see Knabenbauer, in Matthӕum, p. 44). 2nd. Maryam has often been compared with the Syriac mâr, lord, with the meaning of sovereign, but neither Maryam nor Maria is the feminine of mar. 3rd. If the name is Hebrew, which to-day is considered most probable, we may ask if it be not formed from two words, the second of which is yâm, sea. Modern authorities are, in general, not very favourable to this hypothesis ; they see rather in am a simple nominal termination, and in consequence, incline to exclude the meaning where the idea of sea comes in. 4th. It remains for us to search for the principal Hebrew root, whether the name is formed from two words or one, if am is only a termination. It has been suggested : A. Mârâh, to be obstinate (the idea of Hiller, and of Gesenius, which is not widely accepted); B. Rûm, to be exalted, strong, powerful; C. Räâh, to see, in hiphil, to cause to see, from whence, in the participle of the hiphil form, illuminatrice ; with yâm, illuminatrice [star ?] of the sea; D. Mârar, to be bitter or afflicted; to the same root is joined môr, myrrh (the hypothesis which sees the idea of myrrh in the name of Mary is that which P. Knabenbauer prefers), and mâr, drop (she is sometimes called Stilla maris) ; E. Mara', literally, to be well developed and robust, wohlbeleibt, says Bardenhewer; before him Schegg had proposed prӕchtig, magnificent, which is perhaps more suitable. From the etymological meaning, orientals pass quickly to the idea of beauty, with the special signification, so appreciated by them, of physical beauty. Evidently that strength and that beauty, in connection with Mary, must be understood in the spiritual sense. (This last hypothesis is that preferred by Bardenhewer.) In the text are indicated some of the meanings which could perhaps be maintained with an appearance of truth ; it is difficult to choose the right one with certainty.
4 See Leviticus xxvii. 1-9 (note verse 6). Verse 2 in the Vulgate reads, "The man that shall have made a vow, and promised his soul to God"; in the Hebrew, "The man who shall have promised souls ..." (for example, a father his children). Concerning this passage, the protestant authors of the annotated Bible of Neuchatel (vol. ii., 124) also admit that the vow could be personally fulfilled even by women.
5 2 Maccabees iii. 19; compare the Greek and note the variations.
6 Exodus xxxv. 25, 26.
7 Exodus xv. 20, 21 ; Psalm Ixviii. 25.
8 Exodus xxxviii. 8; i Samuel ii. 22 (note also the Hebrew word sdM', which speaks of a guard performing its duties at regular hours like a military guard).
9 De virginibus, I. iii. (PL. xvi. 192).
10 2 Kings xxiii. 1 1 ; I Chronicles ix. 26, 27, 33; and elsewhere.
11 Antiquities of the Jews, VIII. iii. XV. xi.
12 2 Kings xi. 3 ; 2 Chronicles xxii. 12.
13 Much may be learned by a careful study of the carte murale in which M. P. Aucler has so successfully attempted a reconstruction of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus Christ.
From SAINT MARY THE VIRGIN BY RENE-MARIE DE LA BROISE
TRANSLATED BY HAROLD GIDNEY