The Word of God

November 21, 2020 – Memorial of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary


For the readings on the Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, please go here.

Memorial of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary
Lectionary: 680

Reading 1 – ZEC 2:14-17

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.
Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day,
and they shall be his people,
and he will dwell among you,
and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.
The LORD will possess Judah as his portion in the holy land,
and he will again choose Jerusalem.
Silence, all mankind, in the presence of the LORD!
He stirs forth from his holy dwelling.

Responsorial Psalm – LK 1:46-47, 48-49, 50-51, 52-53, 54-55

R.    (49)  The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
or:
R.    O Blessed Virgin Mary, you carried the Son of the eternal Father.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
R.    The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
or:
R.    O Blessed Virgin Mary, you carried the Son of the eternal Father.
“For he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.”
R.    The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
or:
R.    O Blessed Virgin Mary, you carried the Son of the eternal Father.
“He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.”
R.    The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
or:
R.    O Blessed Virgin Mary, you carried the Son of the eternal Father.
“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.”
R.    The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
or:
R.    O Blessed Virgin Mary, you carried the Son of the eternal Father.
“He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
R.    The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
or:
R.    O Blessed Virgin Mary, you carried the Son of the eternal Father.

Alleluia – LK 11:28

R.    Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are those who hear the word of God
and observe it.
R.    Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel – MT 12:46-50

While Jesus was speaking to the crowds,
his mother and his brothers appeared outside,
wishing to speak with him.
Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside,
asking to speak with you.”
But he said in reply to the one who told him,
“Who is my mother?  
Who are my brothers?”
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Mary, in keeping with Jewish custom, was likely consecrated to God as a child

Stillbirths, infant mortality, and mothers’ dying during labor have been among the most predictable human tragedies since time immemorial. Medical progress has only in recent generations dramatically reduced such deaths, albeit unevenly throughout the world. In light of the real dangers of pregnancy and childbirth, the successful birth of a healthy baby has naturally given rise to ceremonies in many cultures thanking God for the precarious gift of new life. Jewish law required the ritual dedication of first-born sons to God in the Temple. It is probable that a similar custom, if not a law, called for Jewish girls to also be so dedicated. It is the likely presentation of the child Mary in such a ceremony that we celebrate today.

The Church does not claim that today’s feast is rooted in Sacred Scripture. There is no direct biblical support for Mary’s Presentation except in the apocryphal “Gospel” of Saint James, a problematic text replete with follies. The lack of textual support is, nevertheless, no reason to doubt the ancient tradition, especially preserved in Eastern Orthodoxy, that Joachim and Anne consecrated their daughter, Mary, to God at the age of three in the Jerusalem Temple. The prophet Samuel was similarly presented by his mother, Hannah. Both Hannah and her namesake, Anne, were long barren and were thus all the more grateful to see the fruit of their unexpected pregnancies.

It is a good and holy thing for Christian parents to proactively dedicate their children to God, or even to invite them to consider a life consecrated to God as priests or religious. While some may consider it an imposition for parents to so explicitly encourage their children to take steps down that holy path, all parents, in fact, are energetic in promoting some level of conformity with their own religious or quasi-religious beliefs. These “beliefs” may be related to the environment, politics, leisure, art, sports, or a thousand other causes or hobbies. Parents always indoctrinate their children. It is intrinsic to their role. The only question is what the content of that indoctrination will be. Ideally, Christian parents hand on to their children their most deeply held beliefs—including their faith in Jesus Christ.

The essence of any sacrifice is to burn, kill, or destroy something of value in order to close the yawning gap between God and man. A sacrifice can be in thanksgiving, to repent of a sin, or in petition for a favor. Primitive priests in cultures across the globe since time immemorial have stood at their rough stone altars on behalf of their people to offer God fatted calves, heifers, sheep, the finest grain, red wine, and even their fellow man. Abraham was willing to offer his very own son to God. Blood sacrifice gradually receded in Judaism, however, to bloodless sacrifice, and eventually to non-sacrificial pathways to God. The age of priests in the Jerusalem Temple sacrificing animals gradually mutated, from the late first century onward, into rabbis in synagogues teaching from books.

To present a child to God, either in a formal ritual or in a private dedication, is to lay that child on a symbolic altar and to say to God: “You create. We procreate. My child is Your child. Do with this child as You will.” Such humble and antecedent submission to the will of God is not an abdication of the duty to form a child in human and religious virtue. It is just to be realistic. Children are gifts, not metaphorically but actually. A child is not a piece of property or an object a parent has a right to possess. No one understands this like the infertile couple. When parents consecrate a child to God, whether at baptism or otherwise, even informally, they are manifesting a willingness to return a gift to its remote source, to please the Maker by giving Him what He already possesses, life itself and all who share in it.

Saints Anne and Joachim, in gratitude for the gift of life, you presented Mary in the Temple. Help all young parents to see in you a model of dependence on God’s providence and may similar consecrations in today’s world prepare saints for the Church of tomorrow.

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