On the feast of the Presentation of Mary, we remember how the pious Joachim and Anna who have been childless for a long time, in thanksgiving for the gift of their daughter, bring her to the Temple in Jerusalem to consecrate her to God. Mary is only 3-years-old at this point.
Consecration of a young child to the service of God seems to have been the custom of the day. Recall, for example, the prophet Samuel whose mother Hannah like Anna was also thought to be barren, and who offered her child as a gift to God at Shiloh.
One may wonder what goes on in the mind of a 3-year-old girl as she is brought to the Temple in such a gesture. But beyond a historical account of this event, there is something that calls for a deeper reflection.
In Western art, today’s feast usually portrays a lone figure of the young Mary climbing the steep steps of the Temple, having left her parents at the bottom, and climbing towards the chief priest and other Temple figures at the top of the steps. Mary seems to possess some bold confidence, leaving her parents at the bottom of the stairs and heading upwards into the house of God by herself.
Theologically, one of the things we can draw out from today’s feast is Mary’s dedication to God. When she is brought to the Temple, she stays there until she is 12-years-old. These are Mary’s early formative years during which she prepares for the great mission of later becoming the Mother of God. The holiness conferred on Mary from the beginning of her life on earth continues into her childhood and beyond. It is her ongoing “yes” that she expresses in faith, which eventually changes human history.
Mary is our model of faithfulness to God. Her ongoing “yes,” from her childhood days and throughout her life, is a response that each of us are also called to make in our own spiritual journey. Let us ask Mary to help us to re-affirm our commitment to God, especially during the times when our faith is most challenged.
Mirror of justice,
preserve in us
the love of divine grace
so that living humbly and happily
in obedience to our Christian calling,
we may always enjoy
the Lord’s friendship
and your motherly consolation.
A prayer of Pope John XXIII (Christine Granger, Mother and Child: Images and Words, Ever Ancient, Ever New. Novalis: Ottawa, 2006, p. 35.)
-Natalia Kononenko, Editor, Living with Christ, Canada’s Companion to Praying and Living the Eucharist