Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Daniel 1:1-6, 8-20
A bit of a jumble surrounds the liturgy today, corresponding somewhat to the minor jumble associated with Passionist history implicated in this celebration of Mary’s Presentation.
So far as the liturgy is concerned, an early appreciation of the meaning of the Presentation of Mary centered on her parents, Joachim and Anne, bringing the infant girl to the temple to offer her to God. This was likely inspired by a clearer biblical account of a later event, when the now-grown Mary and Joseph brought the child Jesus to the temple (Lk 2, 22, ff.) to consecrate Him to God. Otherwise, there is no biblical account of any consecration of the infant Mary. Nonetheless, given the piety of her parents, it seems likely that they made some presentation to God of their cherished baby girl, anticipating her lifelong dedication to God.
That is what the liturgy celebrates today: Mary’s total self-offering to God. The church captures this in choosing the gospel story describing the poor woman giving her all as she drops her few remaining coins into the temple depository, eliciting Jesus’ admiration; and in selecting a passage from the Book of Daniel describing several young Jewish men, under Daniel’s leadership. The dedication they manifested to their Jewish religious practices inspired their daring fidelity to the kind of dietary practices threatening their well-being in a foreign land. Today’s liturgy is inspired by such background in celebrating Mary’s Presentation.
Corresponding somewhat to such recognition of consecration is the attention Passionist history pays to the significance of Mary’s Presentation. From early on, Mary was the driving force in the life of Paul of the Cross, appearing to him early on, clothed in a black garb, asking that he found a new community to be dressed or vested in a similar way. Paul was so inspired by this that he never forgot it, and when the time came for him to be similarly clothed by the bishop, he sought to do so on this very feastday: Mary’s Presentation. However, it actually occurred a day later, the 22nd, since that was a Friday that year (1720), and Friday was a centerpiece of Paul’s spirituality, centered as it was on Christ’s death, occurring on a Friday. But Paul always associated his dedication to God with Mary’s, naming his first foundation, on Monte Argentaro, the retreat of the Presentation, making this feastday a historical marker in the Passionist congregation.
So we celebrate a spirituality of dedication today, honoring that of Mary, of the prophet Daniel and his companions, and of the impoverished woman offering her coins in the temple area. It aims at becoming an all-embracing ideal influencing one’s entire life, and may help us challenge any tendency we have to dart about here, there and everywhere in search of a dominant ideal that captivates us. There is certainly an element of self-sacrifice bound up with a spirituality of dedication, but it finds corresponding support in the Eucharist, which we regard not only as banquet but also as sacrifice-that of Christ upon the cross. Also, the practice of the "Morning Offering" helps to dedicate each new day to God’s service. Perhaps that is why Paul of the Cross found himself so attached to this feast of Mary’s Presentation. It captured his sense of the cross in his life.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.