20 November 2006

The Feast of the *Other* Presentation

I find it rather intriguing that the Western churches have never really celebrated The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the same earnestness as they celebrate the other Marian feasts. The feast appears in the pre-Vatican II calendar as a Greater Double (or Feast of the Third Class) and in the post-Vatican II calendar as a Memorial. These are not very high rankings, especially when compared to the Conception, Dormition and Nativity. (Even the short-lived "Motherhood of the BVM" enjoyed a higher rank.)

I find this fact rather intriguing because the Eastern churches have always ranked this feast among the Twelve Great Feasts. The details are drawn from the Protoevangelium of St James, which states that when the blessed child was three years old she was brought by her parents, Joachiam and Anna, to the temple to live there as a temple virgin until she was betrothed to a widower named Joseph.

Of course, this story should not be considered on the same level as Holy Scripture. Nevertheless, this feast teaches us an important detail, which may be summarized this way:

In all of Scripture, the word "temple" is most often used to refer only to two things: the place where the Ark of the Covenant (which contained the Lord's Word) is stored, and the sanctified person who is "the temple of the Holy Ghost" The bridge between these two uses of the word is the Blessed Virgin Mary. At least, that is how the early church fathers thought. They saw the Blessed Virgin in the Old Testament descriptions of the Ark and, by extention, of the Temple. And so it was not a novel or radical leap, but clealry within the interpretive matrix of the church, when St. Paul said that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. For he was stating that, just as the Blessed Virgin held within her womb the very Word of God, so we also (like her and, in fact, because of her) can hold within our hearts and our very beings, that same Word of God.

This point is underscored by the Gospel reading which is commonly read in both the Eastern and Western churches on this feast; particularly the words, "Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it."

1 comment:

Benjamin Andersen said...

I've read that the somewhat lower ranking this feast has in the Western Church has to do with the fact that it was not commonly celebrated in the West until very late. In fact, I believe it was Franciscans who imported this Eastern feast to the West and popularized it, until Rome made it official sometime in the Middle Ages.