Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Mary’s presentation was celebrated in Jerusalem in the sixth century. A church was built there in honour of this mystery. The Eastern Church was more interested in the feast, but it does appear in the West in the 11th century. Although the feast at times disappeared from the calendar, in the 16th century it became a feast of the universal Church. As with Mary’s birth, we read of Mary’s presentation in the temple only in apocryphal literature. In what is recognized as an unhistorical account, the Protoevangelium of James tells us that Anna and Joachim offered Mary to God in the Temple when she was three years old. This was to carry out a promise made to God when Anna was still childless. Though it cannot be proven historically, Mary’s presentation has an important theological purpose. It continues the impact of the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of the birth of Mary. It emphasizes that the holiness conferred on Mary from the beginning of her life on earth continued through her early childhood and beyond.
"Hail, holy throne of God, divine sanctuary, house of glory, jewel most fair, chosen treasure house, and mercy seat for the whole world, heaven showing forth the glory of God. Purest Virgin, worthy of all praise, sanctuary dedicated to God and raised above all human condition, virgin soil, unploughed field, flourishing vine, fountain pouring out waters, virgin bearing a child, mother without knowing man, hidden treasure of innocence, ornament of sanctity, by your most acceptable prayers, strong with the authority of motherhood, to our Lord and God, Creator of all, your Son who was born of you without a father, steer the ship of the Church and bring it to a quiet harbour" (adapted from a homily by St. Germanus on the Presentation of the Mother of God).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (20.27-40)

Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. Teacher, they said, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her? Jesus replied, The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord 'the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive. Some of the teachers of the law responded, Well said, teacher! And no-one dared to ask him any more questions.

(Homily br Fr. E.J. Tyler)

Josephus informs us in his work, The Jewish War (recounting the Jewish revolt against Rome, 66-70 AD), that there were “three philosophical sects among the Jews. The followers of the first of which are the Pharisees; of the second, the Sadducees; and the third sect, which pretends to a severer discipline, are called Essenes.” He tells us that the Sadducees did not allow “the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades.” This is corroborated Matthew 22:23 and its parallel passage in our Gospel today from Luke 20:27-40. It is mentioned again by Luke in his Acts of the Apostles 23:8, when St Paul exploits the division between the Pharisees and Sadducees on this point to extricate himself from accusations of the Jews. The fact is that the beliefs of mankind on the Afterlife display a bewildering variety. Zoroastrianism had a judgment after death followed by reward or punishment. Ancient Egyptian religion is impressive in its insistence on an ethically based judgment after death, and there are some who regard the Egyptians as having pioneered the notion of an afterlife judgment. In traditional Australian Aboriginal religion it seems that at death the true soul returns to the eternal Dreaming, where in some sense it resided prior to birth. The list of beliefs that have marked man’s idea of the Afterlife goes on, but what is clear is that while generally man looks forward to an Afterlife in some sense, its nature is clouded in obscurity. The Sadducees of our Gospel today (Luke 20: 27-40) emphasised the first five books of the Bible (as being, presumably, the primitive revelation), and, like the ancient Hebrews, emphasized the present. God's rewards and punishments were given now in this life. Now, modern secular man typically goes an important step further. Nature is all there is. There is no Supernatural. His philosophy is Naturalism. Rewards and punishments, then, can occur only in this life. Let us regard the confrontation between Christ and the Sadducees as, in a sense, involving modern man. Modern man has an ingrained assumption that makes it difficult to him to take seriously any talk of a resurrection.

Our Lord is clear and adamant. There is a resurrection from the dead. There will be a judgment on each and every person following his death. For those “considered worthy” of the age to come and of the rising to life with God, the glory of heaven will not be simply a continuation of this life, for they will no longer die. And so there will be no more marriage and married life as such, but in that respect all will be like the angels, for death will have gone forever. It is worth pondering the thought that the glory of heaven will be free of all that pertains to death. There will be nothing that hints of the breakdown or reduction of life. Christ said that he came to bring life, life in abundance, and this gift of life will reach its zenith in the presence of God in heaven. Our Lord points out to the Sadducees that it was alluded to by Yahweh God himself in his meeting with Moses from the Burning Bush, when he described himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This was from one of the five books they accepted. God was referring to living persons, for he was not a God of lifeless remains. It meant that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were alive when God spoke to Moses, although the fullness of their life in God would come with the sacrifice of Christ. What this means is that we ought think often and deeply of what our Lord has revealed of the resurrection from the dead. An eternity of bliss awaits the one who is faithful to God. The bliss will be total and it will be unceasing. This is because it will involve the direct sight of God and unimaginable union with him. The one in heaven will be enfolded in a divine embrace that will immerse him in the infinite love of God. The smile of God will never fade and an eternity of joy will be ahead. Never will there be a tear to dampen the happiness of every soul who has been taken to glory. Moreover, the day will arrive when each soul will be reunited to the body and thus will happiness be complete. The resurrection is a tremendous thought. It ought be at the forefront of our lives till the end. What a tragedy not to be judged worthy of it! The thought of the resurrection from the dead ought impel us to believe in Christ and to share in his saving mission.

Christ often urges us to pray with faith. Ask, and you will receive, he says. What better thing to ask for than that we be saved, and that those for whom we have some responsibility be saved too? Is not this the greatest favour to be asked for, and would it not be the greatest catastrophe to lose it? We ought pray to Christ and to those who are now in heaven that we may join them there. Let us pray to Mary the mother of Christ too, that she will pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

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