Presentation of Mary in the Temple
There is no scriptural account of Mary’s presentation in the temple, by her parents, Joachim and Ann. Apparently baby girls, as well as baby boys, were presented their parents to God-in the temple, if possible-but the available accounts narrate only little boys being so offered to God, but not baby girls. But it is likely that this occurred.
Certainly in Mary’s case, given the religious devotedness of her parents, as well as the pivotal role Mary was to play in God’s redemption of the world, a religious service such as the presentation back to God of this child who was such a gift seems likely. With the unfolding of history, the close relationship of church/temple and Mary gained an accepted place in the reflections of Christians. Did not both temple and Mary house the word of God, with Mary, indeed, being the primary way in which God’s Word dwelt among us. But the temple too was always regarded as enshrining the word of God, a place where it could be safely kept and guarded.
In the Passionist tradition, for some special reason especially dear to Paul of the Cross, the feast of the Presentation of the infant Mary in the Jerusalem temple was highly regarded and commemorated. Perhaps this was because, in the vision appearance of Mary to Paul, early on, she was seen to be clothed in a way expressive of what she wanted him to do: start a new group of religiously inspired people devoted in a prayerful way to the memory of Christ suffering and dying, and she carried this out clothed in the black habit of the Passionists as a living expression to center Paul’s time and attention.
And so he named the very first "retreat" (monastery) of his new community, atop Monte Argentario, and overlooking the Mediterranean, the PRESENTATION, and he incorporated this as a feast day in the Passionist prayer calendar.
This association of Mary with sacred buildings, such as retreats or temples, is in keeping with our biblical readings today as we hear of Jesus cleansing the temple in Jerusalem of the rogues desecrating it with their money changing and sale of animals to be sold to the temple priests, who would sacrifice them as a religious recognition of God in their lives. Jesus became extremely angry and upset that this was occurring in the very place where the Word of God (the bible) was enshrined, venerated, and read. This was an abuse by careless and unthinking people. We might see, in this cleansing of the temple, a parallel in Mary’ case, that is, a premonition of her own cleansing, which Catholics have come to describe as her immaculate conception. That is, a cleansing from sin of the woman in whom God was to abide, as in His temple.
This suggests why we associate Mary and the temple or any religious edifice: each of them houses the word of God, in a protective and nourishing way. The temple is a place where we encounter the word of God in a striking way, and Mary is the person who brings the Word of God to us in living color.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.