The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple – Day of Praise
“While the King was at his repose, my spikenard sent forth the odor thereof” [Cant. 1:2].
Every day of our Lord’s life was a day of grace to His Mother. She was ever learning from Him new lessons, as she saw more and more of the counsels of God. Not only had the shepherds of Judea been to adore Him, but sages and kings from the Far East had been led to His cradle by the “star that arose in Jacob.” All these things gave Mary more and more of the spirit of her Son, and she was able to cooperate with Him in the great work for which He came on earth. We are to consider today how her humility and obedience united in a new act of praise to God. Forty days after the birth of her Child she went to the temple in Jerusalem, there to pay the customary offering for her purification, and to present her Son before the altar. She had no need of this ceremony, for she was not subject to the provisions of the law. Her Child was miraculously born and her virginity remained untouched. She was “a garden enclosed, and a fountain sealed.” Nevertheless, she was not disposed to take any advantage of her privilege, for the impulse of the Holy Spirit led her to the temple to edify the whole world by her obedience, and to fulfill the prophecy of the old law. She appeared then with St. Joseph and the Child Jesus before the altar, and asked for no distinction among the crowd of worshippers. She brought the offering of the poor, a pair of turtle-doves; and, sinless among sinners, pure among the impure, she knelt with her Child before His own altar. It is hard for us, who are ever overestimating our gifts and privileges, to understand such humility. No saint ever practiced such an heroic act of self-abnegation. The Mother of God comes with an offering for her purification, and bears reverently her God into His own temple! But God left not her great humility unrewarded. She was not to kneel there surrounded by hosts of adoring angels and yet unknown to the world. There were some chosen hearts waiting for the consolation of the Israel, who were to echo the salutation of her cousin Elizabeth, and to see the salvation of the Lord, the Word made flesh. St. Simeon had long wept over the desolations of Jerusalem, and long had prayed for some token of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To him the Holy Ghost had revealed that before death should close his eyes he should see face to face the Christ of the Lord. The same Holy Spirit led him now into the temple, to the feet of the Blessed Virgin. His aged eyes were quick to see the presence of his God. His heart overflowed with joy as he saw the long-expected Child, and his faith obtained a reward he had never hoped for. He was allowed not only to see his God, but to embrace Him in his arms. His days were almost spent; the shadows of evening were thick upon him, and he was soon going to rest in the bosom of the patriarchs. But now the Sun of justice shone upon his decline and made his rest glorious. Who can tell the ecstasy of his bursting heart, when, filled with the Holy Ghost, and with the Lord of Life pressed to his bosom, he spake his Nunc Dimittis: “Now, dost Thou dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word, in peace. Because mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people, Israel” [Lk. 2:27-32]. Could he ever forget, through all eternity, the illumination which then filled his soul, or the light which, dispelling the shadows of the valley of death, cast its rays far into the future of his glory? He could now go to the patriarchs and prophets to tell them that their Deliverer was come, and to await His triumphant ascension to open Heaven to all believers. It was reward enough for Mary to see this public recognition of her Son, and to hear the thanksgiving of St. Simeon mingled with the praises of Anna, the prophetess, as she “spake of Him to all who looked for the redemption of Israel.” Yet she understood well the more sublime meaning of the great oblation she made. The great prophecy of Aggeus found its completion in her hands. The second temple, rebuilt after the captivity, was unworthy of comparison with the first great temple of Solomon. Yet it was to be made far more glorious by the presence of the Lord of Hosts, Who in substance of our flesh was to tread its pavement and kneel before its altar. “Who is left among you,” said the prophet, “that saw this house in its first glory? And how do you see it now? Is it not in comparison to that as nothing in your eyes? Yet, now, take courage, for thus saith the Lord of Hosts, yet one little while, and I will move the heaven and the earth and the dry land. And I will move all nations, and the desired of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory. Great shall be the glory of this last house more than of the first, saith the Lord of Hosts, and in this place I will give peace” [Aggeus 2:4-10]. This great event, so long predicted, and expected with so much fervor by all the faithful, now found its fulfillment. The second temple was filled with glory. Angels and archangels crowded its hallowed precincts to welcome the entrance of the King of glory. Almighty God was there, not now in shadow, or by sign or symbol, but in very deed and truth, the Second Person of the Eternal Trinity, the Word made flesh. He came there in His Mother’s arms, in humble poverty, to claim His own, and to receive the worship which for ages had gone up to His throne. To Him was offered there the adoration of all faithful hearts, crowned with the acceptable homage of His holy Mother’s prayer. Yet He came not only to take possession of His own temple. He came there to make His grand oblation as the victim of salvation, and the Blessed Virgin was the priest as this great ceremony. He chose to be offered in His infant years, and in His Mother’s arms. Here, then, was an oblation which recalled all God’s promises. All the sacrifices of the just, from that of righteous Abel down to the victim whose blood had that morning moistened the mercy-seat, had derived their value from this great oblation. The mysteries of the Incarnation and of the cross were brought together. The reality was to take the place of shadows. Around the Child Jesus hung the darkness of Mount Calvary, proclaiming Him the saving Host, before Whom every knee must bow in Heaven and upon earth. When, therefore, the pure hands of Mary uplifted her Child in the temple, she offered the great Mediator between God and man. She made a sacrifice of expiation, thanksgiving, and praise, such as never before had ascended to the heavenly throne. It was by His merit that she had been kept pure from every defilement of sin. What other offering had she but Him Who had made all her joy, and Who alone could express her gratitude? For all God’s mercies to her soul, she could only give back the Child He had given her, and in so doing she made a sacrifice of infinite value. The presentation of our Lord in the temple appeals forcibly to our hearts. Mary’s oblation, so precious in the sight of Heaven, was made not only for herself but for all her children. He is our victim of salvation. He only can interpose between our sins and the divine justice. He only can worthily thank and praise the Most High for the mercies of redemption. Let us enter into the heart of our holy Mother, and with her pure desire for God’s glory, shelter ourselves under the great oblation which she made. Let us praise our heavenly Father for all the graces He has lavished on our souls, but above all, that He has provided for us an offering worthy of His acceptance, His incarnate Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.