A Mother’s Reflection on the Feast of the Entry of Mary into the Temple
What do we sense from this somewhat sobering feast day, a day when a young little Mary leaves her parents and goes to live in the Temple community, perhaps when she was only three years old?
by Virginia M. Kimball | Source:
”Today, the precious bridal chamber who is the Virgin, she who was and is the sacred treasure of God, and the most pure temple of the Savior, enters the house of the Lord, bringing with her the grace of the Divine Spirit. The Angels of God praise her. She is the heavenly tabernacle.”
Kontakion (Fourth Tone) of the ancient feast of the Entry of Virgin Mary in the Temple.
What do we sense from this somewhat sobering feast day, a day when a young little Mary leaves her parents and goes to live in the Temple community, perhaps when she was only three years old? As a mother, my own heart stings with the thought of such a separation. Imagine Anna’s thoughts at that time and the perplexed feelings that both she and Joachim were experiencing. And yet who can imagine their joy in being part of God’s great plan to come close again to humanity and open the gates of joy forever?
Just as Hannah dedicated her son Samuel to the temple when God answered her prayers, these parents bring their daughter, God’s gift of life who will bear the world’s Life, and present her feely to God in the Temple. I think of Hannah and her story. As soon as Hannah’s son was weaned, she presented him at the temple of the Lord in Shiloh, saying “I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD. As long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD (1 Samuel 1:27-28).” It is then that Hannah sang her song of joy to the LORD, “My heart exults in the LORD,” reminding us of the Magnificat Hymn that Virgin Mary sings early in her pregnancy, when she visits her cousin Elizabeth.
This account of Anna and Joachim bringing Mary to be presented in the Temple is not found in scripture. This legendary story is found in a non-canonical writing called the Proto-Gospel of James. For the feast, the elements of this event are found in the icon above: Joachim calls together all the young girls of the Temple community to walk with little Mary, leading her with burning torches to the steps of the holy site. There she is embraced in the arms of High Priest Zacharias, waiting at the gate of the Temple with the elders. Zacharias bends to bless her and places her on the steps of the Holy of Holies. She will now stay in the care of the Temple for nine years, until she is entrusted to Joseph in bethrothal.
The High Priest Zacharias wears the customary phylactery of prayer upon his head that bears a tiny scroll with precious words from God, repeated daily by every faithful Jew: “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord your God is One.” In the upper part of the icon, we see the Virgin who is seated on the step of the Holy of Holies, designated by a red veil hanging above the structure, and there the young girl attended by an angel.
All of the elements in this icon and in this holy account point to the dedicated life of Mary’s parents and Mary’s special protection in her coming task of bearing the One who is God. There are a multitude of symbols drawing us into the mystery of God’s story of incarnation. Nonna Verna Harrison relates much of the account to the mystical connection of Virgin Mary to the temple, in her article “The Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple” (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 2006) where she concurs with ideas from Margaret Barker’s The Gate of Heaven: The History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem. Entering the temple means to Jews in those days that they were entering paradise once again, where there are palm trees, angels, fire and light. Little Mary is now the location from which the new creation will be born, just as the Temple sat on the location where the Cosmos began. The red veil of the temple hides the presence of the mystery of God. Mary, herself, becomes like the veil in a story itself shrouded in mystery.
In a mother’s eye, this story is permeated with both the sorrow of a mother’s heart separating at weaning from her child and the joy in presenting to God what is God’s. As the New Testament unfolds a new temple, the community of the faithful, we see a link between little Mary’s entry into the Temple and her future role as the temple of God’s son. Paul tells us: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Holy Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s Temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy” (1 Cor 3:16). In my mother’s eye, I see Mary’s mother and father presenting their child to God, knowing that she is the one who will bring God’s promise for which they prayed. They are elderly and need the community of faithful to protect their special little girl. It is a moment when the mystery of God is present and all can sense it – the family, the community, the elders and priest of the Temple. How great is the glory of God!
Scriptures for this special day, more moments to reflect
Exodus 40:1-5, 9-10, 34-35 The Holy of Holies
1 Kings 7:51; 8:1,7, 9-11 the Temple
Ezekiel 43:27 to 44:4 the closed Garden
Luke 1:39-56 remembering Hannah