Behold Your Mother By Matthew Russell S.J. Part 4. The Presentation of Our Lady.

The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin might well be called the Rosary of Jesus, if that name were not claimed by another beautiful exercise, which our pious grandmothers knew off by hearty but which, I fear, has, like the Jesus Psalter, dropped out of use- Each of the fifteen decades of the Rosary places before our eyes a scene in which Our Lord is the central figure ; even the first two and the last two are not exceptions. Thus, the Assumption and the Coronation of our Blessed Lady make us look on Jesus. To the former we apply the text, " Who is this that cometh up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning upon her Beloved ? '' In the latter it is by her Divine Son that the Blessed Virgin is crowned in heaven with the brightest diadem of glory. As Jesus is the centre of every "Hail Mary" so He is the centre of every mystery of the Rosary.

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple is not one of these mysteries of the Rosary; for Jesus did not come till the Archangel Gabriel was sent, some years later, to that holy child when she had reached womanhood. Many pious writers are of opinion that the child Mary was thus consecrated specially to God when three years old ; but Benedict XIV., most learned of Popes, says we cannot rely on the authenticity of a certain fragment attributed to Evodius, who was Bishop of Antioch, and lived soon after the time of the Apostles, in which the leading dates of the Blessed Virgin's life are distributed thus : "When three years old, she was presented in the Temple ; and there, near the Holy of Holies, she spent eleven years. Then by the hands of the priests she was delivered into Joseph's guardianship. And when she had passed four months with him she received that joyful message from the Angel. When fifteen years old; she brought forth the Light of the World on the twenty-fifth day of the month of December.''

Although St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John of Damascus, and St. Andrew of Crete repeat these circumstances, they can not be accepted as certain. Especially as regards the date of the Presentation, it is significant that, whereas formerly the prayer of the feast began in this manner, Deus qui sanctam tuam genitricem, templum Sancti Spiritus, post triennium in templo præsentari voluisti . . . (" O God, who didst will that Thy Holy Mother, the temple of the Holy Ghost, should after three years be presented in the Temple "), important changes were made in this prayer as it stands in the liturgy of the Church. It is no longer addressed to the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the play on the word " temple" disappears ; and, above all, the triennium is omitted. These words were expunged by the Sovereign Pontiff, Sixtus V.; and the prayer now runs thus :

Deus, qui beatam Mariam semper virginem, Spiritus Sancti habitaculum, hodierna die in templo præsentari voluisti, præsta, quæsumus, ut ejus intercessione in templo gloriæ tuæ præsentari mereamur. Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum.

"O God, who didst will that Blessed Marv ever-virgin, the dwelling of the Holy Ghost, should today be presented in the Temple, grant, we beseech Thee, that, through her intercession, we may merit to be presented in the temple of Thy glory. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.''

Whatever doubts, however, may rest upon the particular circumstances connected with it, the general fact of the Presentation, as the last and greatest of the Benedicts has told us, can not be called in question: it is guaranteed by a sure and constant tradition, and by the celebration of the feast on the 21st of November. That celebration began in the Eastern Church many centuries before the Western Church adopted it. Amongst those who laboured to secure for this festival its proper place in our calendar, Benedict XIV. gives the chief credit to Father Francis Torrianus, or Torres, one of the Jesuit theologians at the Council of Trent who, perhaps as a recompense, died on the very day of the Presentation, November 21, 1584. It was a good day for him to appear before the judgment-seat of the Blessed Virgin Mary's Son.

Father Fabius Ambrose Spinola, S.J., whose meditations have been translated from their rich Italian into Latin, German, French, and Spanish, but never into English, asks in one of his meditations on this amiable mystery: "Why, O Lord, such haste ? Is she not already all Thy own ? The house in which she dwells, is it not holy ?'' This question might be answered by the lines of a French poet, in a somewhat different meaning :

Le ciel aime les fleurs et four les cueillir belles, 
Ne fait point de retards.

God loves young flowers, and loves them fresh and fair, 
And so He culls them in the morning air.

In another meditation. Father Spinola answers his own question in words borrowed from St. Ignatius' favourite. Father Peter Ribadeneira, whom I will quote from a fine old English translation:

''It was fitting that the blessed child who was to be the Mother of God should not delay to consecrate her soul and body to the service of her Spouse; for as early fruity fresh and newly gathered from the tree and with its bloom upon it is more gustful and pleasing than the withered fruit, handled and fetched out of the market, so the service which is done Our Lord in our tender years is more grateful to Him than that which is offered to Him in old age; although God is so good that He receives the late sacrifices also, and pays with great liberality and bountifulness those who go to labour in His vineyard at the setting of the sun."

The Italian Jesuit followed his Spanish brother very closely, as may be seen by comparing the two passages in the originals.

God's love for humility, secrecy, obscurity, and self-annihilation on the part of His most favoured creatures, is another point which must strike us in glancing at this most hidden part of a life that was hidden from the beginning till the end— hidden always in God, though not yet "hidden with Christ in God.'' St. Thomas Aquinas is said to have had a special devotion to the hiddenness of God; and God Himself has been well said by the baker-poet of Nimes, Reboul, to love "the silence of good things "— le silence des bonnes choses.

I once noticed in a seedman's circular a passage about spring-flowering bulbs, of which I kept a copy for its fancied bearing on the present subject; though indeed it rather illustrates the expediency of the hidden life as a preparation for public life :

"It is well to keep them (when cultivated in glasses) in a dark closet, where there is just sufficient warmth to excite them to growth, by which they will be induced to throw out roots freely while the leaves are at rest—a very important consideration in their management; for, should their leaves be excited into growth (which is quickly done by light and warmth) before they have a sufficiency of roots to keep up a proper supply of nourishment, they will become weakly, and their flowering imperfect. When the roots are sufficiently thrown out, they may be gradually removed to more light and heat; their leaves and flowers will then be rapidly developed.''

I may join with this passage some words of Father Richard Strange,an English Jesuit of the first half of the seventeenth century. What he says about the parents of St. Thomas of Hereford may be applied to Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin :

"They resolved to place this precious treasure which God had given them in a safe retreat; as nature, or rather the Author of nature, teaches the little pearls, when they are soft and tender in the shell, to retire under shady and hollow rocks; being otherwise not only exposed to violence of waves and weather, but also subject to change colour and to be sun-burned if they float in the open sea."

This bit of natural history about the little pearls hiding themselves for fear of being sun-burned is hardly as trustworthy as my seedman's advice about spring-flowering bulbs. But, in serious truth, God, as Father Strange has just reminded us, is the Author of nature as well as of grace, and the operations of grace often follow the analogy of the operations of nature. And that treatment of the spring-flowering bulbs and that conduct of the little pearls might well suggest useful hints for the management of our spiritual and intellectual life.

That portion of our Blessed Lady's life to which the thought of her Presentation turns our hearts and minds has within the last half century become the object of special devotion, under the title of Mater Admirabilis. A religious of the Sacred Heart painted on the wall of one of the corridors of their convent of the Trinity de' Monti in Rome a fresco representing the Blessed Virgin at work, such as she may have been during her stay in the Temple. This holy picture has been more appropriately called " The Virgin of the Temple,'' and also Madonnina del Giglio ("The Little Madonna of the Lily "), from the Iily which bends toward the young Maiden as she sits at her distaff, with her book open beside her. It is said that the Abbess Makrina, when an exile from Minsk, where the nuns had been cruelly treated by the Russians, gave it its present title, by which it is designated in the Papal grant of indulgences and in other official documents. Pope Pius IX. visited it and blessed it, and ever since this shrine has been a place of pilgrimage.

The first handbook of the devotion, by Father Alfred Monnin, who was also the first biographer of the Cur' d'Ars, Blessed John Baptist Vianney, was entitled " Mater Admirabilis; or, the First Fifteen Years of Mary Immaculate." Now a hundred years before Madame Perdrau obeyed the happy inspiration to portray the "Verginella del Tempio" on the walls of the convent of the Trinita de' Monti, Benedict XIV. quoted with approval a grave and erudite writer, Baillet, as saying that the feast of the Presentation was instituted by the Church ut honor habeatur innocentiæ morum quæ inter infantiam et Annuntiationem in Beata Maria Virgine exsiluit, " in order that due honour might be paid to the innocence of fife which shone forth in the Blessed Virgin Mary between her infancy and the Annunciation ''—namely, during that very portion of Our Lady's life on earth on which the devotion to the Mater Admirabilis strives to fasten the special attention of the faithful.

Nano Nagle placed the first Irish-born Order of nuns under the shelter of this sweet and amiable name—the Presentation of Our Lady. Dominicanesses, Carmelites, and Poor Clares were in Ireland already in spite of all the rigour of the Penal Laws; and Nano Nagle herself had first introduced the Ursulines. But she next founded the first Order of Irish birth ; and, as these Sisters were to instruct the children of the poor and humble, and to guard their piety and purity, they were fitly assigned a name which would remind them of the corresponding period in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while she was being brought up within the sacred precincts by the holy women who were consecrated to the service of the Temple,

These thoughts, and the holy associations that for various reasons cling round the title of Mater Admirabilis, will, I trust, help some of us to make use habitually of this devout invocation, '' O Mother Most Admirable, pray for me ! "