O Holy Dwelling Place of God!
'Blessed Mary, Mother of God, Ever-Virgin, temple of the Lord, sanctuary of the Holy Spirit: you alone, without any prior example, was
pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ, alleluia.'
- Magnificat antiphon of the Feast
Today's memorial in honour of the Blessed Virgin was first observed in the West in England in the 11th century and became a Roman feast in the 14th century. Because of its relatively late emergence, Pope Pius V actually removed it from the Tridentine-reformed Breviary but it was restored by Pope Sixtus V in 1585, thus firmly establishing this feast in the Universal Calendar of the Church. However, it seems to date to the 8th century in the Eastern Church wherein on 21 October, the Greek books mark a Feast of the 'Entrance of the All-Holy Mother of God into the Temple'. This, according to Butler's 'Lives of the Saints' links it to a commemoration of the basilica of St Mary the New in Jerusalem in 543.
Whatever the provenance of today's memorial, it is yet another opportunity to focus on the total dedication of Our Lady to the will of the Father, for this day commemorates the belief that when Mary was three years old, her parents, Ss Joachim and Anne, took her to the Temple to be educated. The 'Protoevangelium of James' rather touchingly notes that although Our Lady was only three, the Holy Spirit so endowed her with grace that she did not cling to her parents and instead "danced with her feet and all the house of Israel loved her", for which Ss Joachim and Anne thanked God and marvelled at His goodness.
This giving over of Mary to the priests of the Temple, who educated her, is a sign of the fact that Our Lady was entirely dedicated to the Lord. Indeed, St Ambrose of Milan wrote: "In the one Virgin how many glorious examples do shine forth. Her's was the hidden treasure of modesty, her's the high standard of faith, her's the self-sacrifice of earnestness, her's to be the pattern of maidenhood at home, of kinswomanhood in ministry, of motherhood in the Temple."
By the prayers and powerful intercession of the Ever-Virgin Mary and the grace of the Holy Spirit, may we too be found worthy to be presented in the heavenly Temple of the Lord's glory, even as today we recall Our Lady's presentation in the earthly Temple.