This is an important ecumenical feast celebrated by churches of the east and west; it reminds us of the faith we have in common. Originating in the church of Jerusalem, the feast is based on the tradition that Mary was born in Jerusalem; her father Joachim provided lambs for sacrifice in the temple. He and his wife Ann were childless until, at the promise of an angel, they are blessed with a daughter. When she is three years old, they presented Mary in the temple where she is raised among virgins.
A tradition says that the ancient church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, almost adjacent to the temple, marks the place where Mary was born. It’s not the only tradition about her birthplace, of course, Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris, also make that claim.
If you look at the substance of the story, it says basically that Mary was closely connected to the temple in Jerusalem, a claim Luke’s gospel supports. He says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest. So, couldn’t Mary’s family be connected there too?
Luke links Mary to the temple a number of times. She and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) 40 days after Jesus is born, to present him to God, even though it wasn’t necessary for them to go to the temple for that purpose, but they do.
Luke also says Mary and Joseph customarily brought Jesus from childhood to the temple to celebrate the feasts. I don’t think Mary saw the temple as a cloister, but rather as a place she was familiar with from the time she was a little girl. She believed God was present there, and so she brought her Child to this place. It was a place of spiritual teaching; prophets spoke in its courtyard and the world was welcome there. The old man Simeon spoke to her there and Israel’s beliefs were expressed there.
“The Lord is in his holy temple,
The Lord’s throne is in heaven.” (Psalm 11)
Later, her Son spoke of his “father’s house.” Mary first introduced him to this holy place. He engaged its teachers and spoke about his own mission as he celebrated its feasts. He cleansed it in a dramatic, symbolic action. He celebrated the last supper nearby and died as the lambs from the temple were being sacrificed.
Jesus was the new temple.
We will be beginning the advent season soon, when we’ll hear the voices of the prophets promising the One to come as the savior of his people and calling all nations to climb the mountain of the Lord and enter his holy temple. This feast is reminder of Mary’s part in his coming and the vital role she played.