2nd Sunday of Advent: The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple

Opening Prayer

Lord God,

Be with us as continue to strive to be more like your Son Jesus Christ through the model of Mary his mother. Help us to be open to your call as she was, as well as firm in our faith even in the most trying times of their lives. Grant to us the same dedication to your word that Mary had at a young age so that we might be as she was, a living voice of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.


Scripture Reading

Isaiah 40:1-5

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Sano di Pietro, The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple
Sano di Pietro, The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple
Tempera and gold on wood panel
Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome
Source: Photographed at the Pinoteca Vaticana by Richard Stracke

Sano di Pietro, The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple
Tempera and gold on wood panel
Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome
Source: Photographed at the Pinoteca Vaticana by Richard Stracke

On The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple

The Eastern churches have observed a feast day commemorating Mary’s presentation in the Temple from the sixth century until the present time. Orthodox images of the event may include a procession of virgins headed by Mary (Art and the Christian Apocrypha, Cartlidge and Elliott, 31, 37). In the West, a feast of the Virgin’s presentation was in the universal calendar only from 1476 until the reforms of the Council of Trent. Consequently, images of the event are less common in the West than images of other milestones in Mary’s life.

The images are easy enough to identify. The child is made to look somewhat older than three and is always ascending a flight of stairs to the Temple, sometimes with her arms crossed in a gesture of humility.

Her parents stand at the foot of the stairs, and the High Priest stands at the top. The priest may be arrayed like Aaron in a breastplate and hornlike “holy crown”. But sometimes he will be made to look more like a bishop and the Temple more like a Christian church with a tabernacle. This reflects the tradition that Mary is the antitype of the Ark of the Covenant.

In the literary sources it is important that the number of steps in the stairway be fifteen, the same as the number of the “Gradual Psalms.” But the artists hardly ever follow this cue. Even in the large canvases it seems just too difficult to squeeze in all fifteen.

Like most images in this type the artist ignores the literary tradition that there were fifteen steps. It also breaks tradition by putting the event in an interior space. The steps culminate in an area much like the chancel of a church, with an altar and a golden tabernacle. The tabernacle refers to a tradition going back at least to the 3rd century that “the holy Virgin is in truth an ark, wrought with gold both within and without” (St Gregory Thaumaturgus).

St. Anne is on the left with a woman dressed like herself and two younger women. On the right are St. Joachim and two companions. The High Priest is dressed more like a Christian bishop, with a miter and cope.

It is however unusual to show Mary looking back to her mother. Most images have her striding confidently forward.

Each mother is similarly posed in the left center of the image, on a white bed with vertical stripes and each child is being bathed by midwives. The differences, however, are somewhat telling. St Anne is on a tall bed before a background of elegant urban structures and empty sky while Mary lies on a blanket in a cave while in the background shepherds gaze at the angel in the heavens.

There is a similar chiasmic relation before the Annunciation and Assumption images also included in the painting. Again, an urban location in one is contrasted with angels and sky in the other, and the dark mantle that Mary wears in the Annunciation image differs dramatically from the brighter blue one in which she rises to heaven.

An Oblate’s Pondering
By Fr Kevin Davine, OMI

This picture is quite an ancient work of art.

It’s very solemnly presented; it’s on a grand scale, steps, pillars, priests and others, garments. It’s emphasizing the fact that something momentous was happening. And even though the presentation isn’t recorded in the Bible, and the feast itself is a fairly recent tradition, nevertheless, it emphasizes the fact that Mary was chosen by God for her special role to be the mother of the Savior, the mother of God.

This is emphasized by the solemnity of the whole painting. It’s emphasizing that this little person is chosen by God for something special, but she didn’t know about that then.

Mary was dedicated to God when she was three years old, the Jewish custom. From the very beginning she was developing the state of mind that God comes first. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to Thy Word—that was her attitude always. Whatever God asked of her she was prepared to say Yes. So, when the annunciation moment came, it was no trouble to her in spite of the mystery, in spite of the difficulties, in spite of the fact she couldn’t see the future. It was a very huge and momentous event, nevertheless she said, “Thy will be done.” She was dedicated to the will of God.

Because you and I were baptized, that was a dedication too—we were dedicated to the Lord at our baptism. Do we ever think of that? I pray sometimes that I will be true to my dedication, my dedication at baptism, at vows, and at priesthood. But we were dedicated first at our baptism when we were chosen by God, singled out. “This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”

In reflecting on this I think of little Mary there, dedicated to the Lord. She made God’s will, her will. For us also, we were dedicated to the Lord at our baptism so we should make sure that we are always conscious of:

What does God ask of me?

What does God want of me in the particular situation?

Mary was very faithful, when the annunciation moment came, she had no idea what was in store for her, yet she said Yes to God. It is extraordinary. Even though she didn’t know what the future held, she said Yes. She accepted what God was asking of her. She had no idea what the future would hold; in fact, it was going to hold some incredibly sad things for her, some very difficult trying circumstances. And yet, even though it was a very mysterious thing to be asked, to be the mother of the Savior, but in the mystery of it all, she accepted God’s will.

That is what Mary teaches us more than anything else, be aware of God’s will, and try to follow it faithfully with heart and soul.

Reflection Questions

Feel free to share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

  1. What speaks to you in this artwork?
  2. How does this artwork help us to understand or give us an insight into Mary’s faith and trust in God?
  3. How often do you consider that, like Mary, you are dedicated to God through your own baptism?
  4. This Advent, how can you commit to being more conscious of what God is asking of you?

Reflection Activities for the Week Ahead

Mary brought God’s love to fruition around her. She did so without being noticed, because her deeds were those of every day, little things imbued with love. Spend some time reflecting on what every day, little things you do throughout the week. Focus on how doing them filled with love can make a difference to those in our lives.

Find an alternative artwork of Mary’s presentation to the Temple. What are the similarities and differences with the artwork we focused on? What feature in your chosen artwork speaks to you. Take 5 minutes to reflect on and renew your Baptismal promises, shown in this video.

Closing Prayer

Holy Father,

We come to you because Jesus asked us to pray that you send workers into your harvest. Therefore, send us generous men and women, passionate for Jesus, willing to make their whole life a total oblation to You, to become close to the poorest and most abandoned, and to proclaim the Gospel.

Send us, Lord, people willing to share the charism of our founder, St Eugene de Mazenod, conscious of the call of God to be a friend and co-missionary of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and serve the poor and most abandoned.

Under the inspiration and protection of Mary Immaculate, help us as we encounter our brothers and sisters and offer them Jesus, the source of our hope, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


P.S. During this reflective season of Advent we think about Our Savior who came to help the poor and most abandoned. Would you please help the Missionary Oblates care for them?