“And after the days of her Purification, according to the Law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord. As it is written in the Law of the Lord, That every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: and to offer sacrifice, according as it is written in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons.”
1. The story of Christmas, crowded as it is, is quickly told and quickly over. The Holy Family do not give themselves much time to loiter. First, they fulfill the custom binding on all the children of Abraham, then they fulfill the law binding all the children of Moses. The mother was “unclean” until she had presented herself at the temple and made her offering, and received the absolution of the priest; the first-born, if a boy, was by right the child of the temple, and must be brought back by the parents that it might remain their own. Here, then, we find the Immaculate Mother with the utmost simplicity in the world, without a thought that it should be otherwise, eager only that the Law should be observed, and that the blessing of God should be upon her, counting herself as defiled, and letting others count her as defiled, at a moment, which of all others, was the triumph of a virgin’s innocence.
2. The presentation of our Lord rests on another basis. This had become part of the Law as a commemoration of the deliverance from Egypt. In the law we read: “When the Lord shall have brought thee into the land of the Canaanite, as he swore to thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it to thee, thou shalt set apart all that openeth the womb to the Lord, and all that is first brought forth of thy cattle, whatsoever thou shalt have of the male sex, thou shalt consecrate to the Lord. And every first-born of men thou shalt redeem with a price. And when thy son shall ask thee to-morrow, ‘What is this?’ thou shalt answer him, With a strong hand did the Lord bring us forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for when Pharaoh was hardened and would not let us go, the Lord slew every first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first born of man to the first-born of beasts, therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the womb of the male sex, and all the first borns of my sons I redeem. … It shall be a sign in thy hand, and as a thing hung between thine eyes, for a remembrance, because the Lord hath brought us forth out of Egypt with a strong hand.” Thus did our Lord link up in Himself the type and its fulfillment, the deliverance which had been, and the greater deliverance at His later and greater self-oblation.
3. And this was the first occasion on which our Lord came into His Father’s house. He was to come to it again in many capacities; in a few years as a disciple, once more fulfilling the custom of the law; later as an indignant purifier, when “ the zeal of His Father’s house would consume Him”; later again as a teacher and worker of miracles; then as a triumphant king on Palm Sunday; and finally, when He would denounce from its steps its priests and its masters, and would leave it never to return. Then the Temple would pass away, not a stone being left as a stone; and instead our Lord would again be presented to His Father in countless temples throughout the world.
Summary Meditation Points
- In the Purification Our Lady reckons herself with the defiled.
- In the Presentation Our Lord is Himself the completion of the type of the deliverance.
- The coming to His Temple, then and now.
Art: Detail from Darbringung Christi im Tempel [Offering of Christ in the Temple], Antonio Beduzzi, 1713-1718 (Maria Taferi Church Fresco), CC-SA, Wikimedia Commons. Mirror of Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J., www.stmaryscadoganstreet.co.uk, all rights reserved, used with permission.