The Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been observed within Western Christianity for more than nine centuries. All the same, its roots are in the East, where Christians have observed this great event as early as the sixth century under the slightly more revealing title, The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.
Every feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary is, in some way, a commemoration of her Motherhood—that is, the Maternal role she plays in the life of her Son and, by a special gift of grace, the whole of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. Mary is, in a word, the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church. Even from her conception, she was “preveniently” spared the stain of Original Sin in preparation for this role. In the course of her young life, she was further prepared for the unique role she would play in the story of Salvation History: namely, that having been consecrated or presented to the Lord in the old Temple, her very body was prepared to serve as the New Temple—that is to say, to be the God-bearer (Theotokos)! In her role as the mother of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, she is truly constituted as the New Eve and her virginal womb as the new Ark of the Covenant—that is to say, the new and definitive Holy of Holies. Her Son, Jesus Christ, became the New Adam, and in his fruitful relationship to his Mystical Bride, the Church, a new people is born by water and the spirit (c.f., Rm 5:12-18; Jn 3:1-21).
These are lofty truths indeed! Let us reflect further with St. John Paul II on the Motherhood of Mary. Our closeness to Mary, the Pope teaches, draws us into an intimate knowledge of Jesus, her Son. She freely permits us to take our place in this “school” of love: “Mary’s memory is a source of singular importance for knowing Christ, an incomparable source,” the Pope reminds us (JPII, Memory and Identity).” Not only was Mary there and an active participant in the mystery of the Incarnation (the moment she became the Mother of God!), but she was “present at [her Son’s]… Ascension into heaven; likewise, she was with the Apostles in the Upper Room awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit, and she was a witness to the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost (JPII, Memory and Identity).”
The Unique Nature of Motherhood
In the order of nature, there is no love more tender and, at the same time, more fierce than the love of a mother for her child. It is unique in all the world. Motherhood constitutes the woman in a unique and profoundly intimate way of “knowing the other.” As St. John Paul II reminds us, “in this particular act of knowledge, mediated by personal femininity… the discovery of the pure subjectivity of the gift: that is, mutual self-fulfillment in the gift, seems to be reached (TOB 21:3).” To better understand our meaning, the Pope elsewhere suggests that a pregnant mother’s body takes on the very “form of love” – that is to say, the concrete form of “self-giving.” The mother’s body is “given away” to the other, and it is in this very self-gift that we see concretely the fruit of love: a child (c.f., TOB 21)! It is against this background that we best understand the Motherhood of Mary. She was and is closest to her Son—her body having given of itself, she having given of herself, that he might have life. Knowing that she would suffer, she gave him to this world and to each one of us—doing all these things with the knowledge and love that only a mother can have.
But there is more: Mary has not only given us her Son, with all that this gift entails, but now willingly gives herself to us all precisely as a mother. As Hans Urs Von Balthasar notes, “Mary of Bethany can never be dispensed with. Personam Ecclesiae gerit [The Person of the Church will give birth]: she represents in her special role, the Church herself (Von Balthasar, Spouse of the Word).” In giving birth to the first fruits of our redemption, Mary becomes the archetype of the Church! Mystically, she is revealing to human consciousness the “inmost mystery of the nuptials between Christ and the Church, God and the world, grace and nature.” In short, the maternal nature of the Church is revealed and actualized in and through “Mary’s fecundity as mother (Von Balthasar, Spouse of the Word).”
The Feast of the Presentation of Mary, then, is a memorial that anticipates all she will come to be—all that she has become for the new People of God. As St. John Paul II teaches, it is by virtue of her mystical motherhood that the “memory of the new People of God is intimately associated with Mary’s memory, and that the celebration of the Eucharist relives events and teachings of Christ learned from the lips of his mother (JPII, Memory and Identity).” With no fear, and with the freedom of the Children of God, let us turn to Mary our Mother. Let us seek what it is she wishes to give us—her maternal guidance and intercession!
Fr. John Johnson was ordained in 2007 for the Diocese of Savannah, GA. He currently serves as the Pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Claxton, GA and Campus Ministry Chaplain to Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA. Fr. Johnson holds M.Div. and MA degrees from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and is a candidate for the Licentiate in Sacred Theology from Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He has taken courses and served as a chaplain for the Theology of the Body Institute.