|Presentation of the Blessed Virgin as a child in the Temple - Limbourg Brothers, Miniature from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, c. 1415.|
The Festival of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin as a child in the Temple—of comparatively recent introduction in the West—was observed from a very early age throughout the Christian East. The ancient tradition tells us that Joachim and Anne introduced Mary at the age of three to the Temple and left her there to be dedicated in a special manner to the Lord.
I will translate the short passage from St. John Damascene read at Matins on the Feast:
"Joachim was united in matrimony to the chosen Anne, a woman worthy of the highest praise. Now, even as Anna of the Old Testament, when she was stricken with barrenness, gave birth to Samuel as the fruit of Prayer and Promise, in like manner the second Anna received from God the Mother of God promised to her entreaties, so that in fruitfulness she had not to yield to any of the illustrious matrons who had gone before her. Thus Grace (for this is the meaning of the word Anna) is mother of the Lady (for this is the signification of the name of Mary), who in truth was made the Lady over all created things when she became the Mother of the Creator.
"The Holy Virgin first saw the light in Joachim's house hard by the Probatica (in domo probaticae Joachim) [ Cf. P . 3.] and was brought to the Temple. There, having been planted in the House of God, and nourished by the Spirit, she was made like a fruitful olive-tree, the dwelling place of all virtues—as one who had withdrawn her mind from every desire of this life and of the flesh, and had thus preserved virginity both of soul and body—as beseemed her who was to receive God in her womb." (De Fide Orthodoxa, iv. 15.)
On this subject St. Gregory of Nyssa writes:
"As soon as Mary was grown to be a little maid who no longer needed her mother's breast, holy Anne, taking her to the Temple, restored her to God." (Orat. in Nat. D. N. J. C.)
And St. Theodotus of Ancyra:
"A Virgin was chosen who, when yet unborn, was consecrated to God her Maker, and, when born, was offered up as the memorial of a grateful heart to abide in His sanctuary and Temple." (Hom. vi. ii in S. Deiparam et in Nativit. Dom.)
The learned Suarez proves that there was a place in the Temple at Jerusalem wherein maidens, consecrated to God, dwelt apart, and that in this house of virgins our Lady lived until her espousals to St. Joseph. (Pars iii. 2, 29, Art 2, Disp. 7.)
St. Ephrem expresses the tradition which he had received on this subject in Syria when he puts the following words into the mouth of the Blessed Virgin:
"Whilst I was yet a little child, the priests of the people brought me up in the holy Temple ; when I became a young girl they espoused me to the just Joseph." (Hymns on the B.V.M. xvi. 7 ; Lamy, vol. ii. p. 640.)
Both the Apocryphal Gospels and the Koran bear witness to the tradition of the Presentation in the Temple. With regard to the Apocryphal Gospels, it should be borne in mind that, though we should be careful not to accept any statement on the sole authority of these books (often tainted as heretical in their source), still, there is no doubt that in some respects they bear trustworthy witness to the Christian Tradition. Mr. Rodwell thinks that Muhammed had no direct access to these "Gospels," but derived the following passage in the Koran from " the ordinary traditions of South Syria " at the time (The Koran (Everyman's Library Edition), p. 389, Note i.) :
" Remember when the wife of Imram said: ' O my Lord ! I vow to Thee what is in my womb for Thy special service. Accept it from me, for Thou Hearest, Knowest.' And when she had given birth to it, she said : ' O ! my Lord, verily I have brought forth a female.' (God knew what she had brought forth; a male is not as a female.) (That is, a female child could not become a priest (Id. Note 2).) 'And I have named her Mary, and I take refuge with Thee for her and for her Offspring, from Satan the stoned.' (According to the Mohammedan tradition, Abraham drove Satan away with stones.) So with goodly acceptance did her Lord accept her and with goodly growth did He make her grow. Zacharias reared her [this was an old tradition]. So oft as Zacharias went in to Mary at the sanctuary, he found her supplied with food.
(No importance should be attached to the story of our
Lady being fed miraculously by angels in the Temple, which
is to be found in the Apocryphal Gospels. I only quote it
here because it seems interesting to find it also in the Koran.)
O Mary,' said he, whence hast thou this?' She said: 'It is from God, for God supplieth whom He will, without reckoning.'" (2 Sura iii. The Family of Imram, 31-33.)
The holy child Mary, during her stay in the Temple, no doubt devoted herself, together with the other maidens who were her companions within its precincts, to such occupations as the making of tapestry and spinning, (In the Middle Ages the weavers claimed the right to place themselves and their craft in a special manner under the protection of our
Lady, in memory of her occupations, whilst living in the Temple.) the study of the Holy Scriptures of the Old Covenant, and prayer.