[Tomorrow] the Church observes the commemoration of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple. Unfortunately, we have no historical indication that such a thing ever occurred. But from way back, around the year 500, a tradition grew up that when Our Lady was about four years old, her parents brought her to the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate her to the Lord. Maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t.
The reason why the Church keeps this commemoration in her calendar, I think, is to emphasis the notion of “temple” which is very rich one in Judaeo-Christian sacred history.
As the Hebrews were in the desert, having escaped Egypt and on their way to the promised land, God gave to Moses very detailed instructions about building a “tent of meeting” where God would dwell in a very special, localized way among his people. Later, when they were settled in the promised land, King Solomon, the son of David, wished to build a great place of worship in his capital, Jerusalem, which would be an expression of the people’s love for God and their desire to worship him in fitting style. So he built a magnificent temple which lasted for about 400 years. It was destroyed by the Babylonians, and then rebuilt more modestly by the Jewish people when the king of Persia allowed them to return to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon.
Shortly before the birth of Jesus, King Herod the Great, wishing to curry favor with his people who, he knew, hated him, decided to build a temple even greater than the original one constructed by Solomon. They were still working on it during Our Lord’s time.
Thus, the term “temple” means a place where God dwells among his people and where he can most properly be adored and honored. With the coming of the Christian era, the term was changed from a PLACE to a PERSON. When the Archangel Gabriel was sent to Our Lady to ask her to be the Mother of the Redeemer, he began by saying to her: Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Thus we see that God dwells in the little virgin of Nazareth in a very special way. And the child whom she would conceive and give to the world would be a temple in an even more special way, since he would be both God and man, and would be, quite literally, adorable. During the nine months of her pregnancy, Our Lady contained the body of Jesus within her own body. She was a temple in a much more human, vital, personal way than any mere building could ever be. And all of her life, she contained Christ in a spiritual way. “Full of grace; the Lord is with you.”
As long as you and I are in the state of sanctfying grace, we, too, are temples because God dwells within us. We should think often of the lives and sanctity of Jesus and Mary and do our best to live as they did since they are our models in living lives “full of grace.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.