Saturday, November 21, 2009

Presented in Holiness

O God, who on this day didst vouchsafe that blessed Mary Ever-virgin, the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost, should be presented in the Temple: grant, we beseech thee; that by her intercession we may be found worthy to be presented unto thee in the temple of thy glory. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the same Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth forever and ever. Amen.

Today is, in the old Western Calendar, the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple. This commemoration features an event that is, of course, not found in the Bible. It was a late development in the Western calendar, originating in the Christian East and becoming one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church Year in that tradition. Not being recorded in Scripture, this feast was dropped at the time of the English Reformation and its observance falls among those many aspects of the Faith that cannot be enforced as “central” in Anglican thinking. However, the story of Mary’s presentation in the Temple by her parents in thanksgiving to God for the gift of a child in no way conflicts with the tenants of the Faith, and clearly prefigures Christ’s Presentation in the Temple as recorded in the Gospel according to Luke.

Today’s feast is first and foremost about the Virgin Mary: her growing up in the context of holiness, the model she presents for what it means to live a holy life, and her intercession for us. This is perhaps the best of Marian devotion. Yet, in addition to the Virgin there is the image and language of Temple to consider. The Temple in Jerusalem was the place wherein God’s Holy Name was enshrined. To it, the people came and made sacrifice in accordance with the Law. It was the locus of earthly holiness to the Hebrew people.

This feast recalls that, for us, the Virgin Mary is in some way the fulfillment of the Temple – now made of loving and willing flesh rather than built of cold and hard stone. St. Mary is dedicated, as was the Temple, to be the place wherein the “Holy Name of God” is brought into the world – but now, that Holy Name comes in the Flesh, rather than invisibly. The God-Bearer brings forth the Son of God in seamless continuity with the Law, for He is the very fulfillment of that Law.

As we contemplate all of this, we are inevitably called to consider our own lives: are they “holy places of encounter” with God for others, or is our life just lived as a collection of “to-do” lists, anxieties, or selfish ambitions that will soon pass into the oblivion of death? We were created for glory; our lives must shine with it, inviting others to share with us in God’s true purposes for His beloved people.

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