Message of the Joyful Mysteries – The Presentation

Two events are commemorated in this mystery, the purification of our blessed mother and the presentation of Jesus. According to Jewish law a mother, after having given birth to a boy, was considered legally unclean for forty days. At the end of this period, she had to present herself in the temple, if possible, to be declared clean. The ceremonies connected with this act called for a sacrifice of expiation for which a dove was used, and the burnt offering of a lamb. In the case of a poor mother, a dove was substituted for the lamb, and so we read that Mary, being poor, offered a pair of turtle doves. The second event is the ransoming of Jesus. This ceremony was to keep alive the memory of the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt. The last plague which God sent upon the Egyptians was the death of their firstborn sons, whereas the firstborn sons of the Israelites were saved. In memory of this event, God ordained that the firstborn son of every Jewish family was to be dedicated to His service. However, soon after this God chose the tribe of Levi for the performance of all priestly functions. Since then the first-born sons of all the other tribes had to be presented in the temple and to be ransomed from the original obligation by the payment of a fixed sum of money. Although it was not necessary that the child himself should be brought to the temple, this was generally done. It is in the observance of these two laws that we find Mary with her Infant Child in the temple.

Mary’s Humility

Since the birth of Jesus had been miraculous, a virginal birth, Mary did not fall under the law. However, to claim exemption would have necessitated revelation of this mystery, and that was not the will of God at the time. Grateful that her privilege thus could remain hidden, Mary humbly submits to this law like the other mothers of Israel. She is the handmaid of the Lord with no other desire but that the will of God should be done by her and in her.

Presentation of Jesus

The presentation of Jesus, though outwardly like that of all the other firstborn sons of the Jews, is yet totally different. For Jesus, it is not a release from, but the first external consecration of Himself to, the priestly office. True, He will not act as a priest of the order of Levi, but He is priest and victim, first in the bloody sacrifice of the cross and then to the end of time in the Eucharistic sacrifice, as priest of the order of Melchisedech. In fact, the priesthood of the Old Testament and all its sacrifices are but types and figures of His priesthood and sacrifice. Jesus, even as an Infant, has the full use of reason and, though not spoken audibly, the words of the prophet are in His heart, “Sacrifice and oblation You would not, but a body You have fitted to Me; in holocausts and sin-offerings You have had no pleasure. Then said I, ‘Behold I come . . . . to do Your will O God’.” (This Old Testament passage is quoted in the New Testament at Hebrews 10:5-7).

A Sign Contradicted

There lived at the time in Jerusalem a holy old man by the name of Simeon. He had received from the Holy Spirit the assurance that he would not die before having seen the Messiah for whose coming he had prayed all his life. Simeon was in the temple as Mary and Joseph brought in the child Jesus and, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, he recognizes in Him at once the promised Saviour. He takes the Child into his arms, his heart overflowing with gratitude. Now he can die in peace, for his eyes have seen the light sent for the illumination of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. But salvation will depend upon the attitude which men take toward this Child. And Simeon said to Mary His Mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:25-35). It will be so because the cross of Christ shall be a folly to the Gentiles and a scandal to the Jews, but to those that are called, the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23). So we, too, must take our stand with regard to Christ. Let it be one of loyal and generous service. Let us offer ourselves to Him in His own words, whatever the call may be, “Behold I come to do Your will.”

The Christian’s Presentation

We, too, had our presentation when through Baptism we were cleansed from sin, incorporated into Christ and dedicated to the service of God. We repeated this consecration again and again during life, and that with particular solemnity on some outstanding occasions like the day of our first Holy Communion, the day of profession for Religious, the ordination day for priests. All these latter acts of consecration usually are made in connection with the Eucharistic Sacrifice; this illustrates our desire to unite our work and toil in God’s service with that of our Divine High Priest and Victim for the accomplishment of His mission as well as our conviction that courage and strength to persevere on our sacrificial path flows from the Saviour’s sacrifice.

Consecrated Lives

What we should do in order to make our lives fruitful for our own salvation and that of others is suggested by the persons acting in this mystery of the Presentation. The example of Simeon points to continuous prayer. There can be no love of Christ without at least praying for the success of the cause of Christ. From Mary we learn to be humble and not to boast of our merits or of the good we do. We do no favour to God by living for God, but God does an exceedingly great favour to us by accepting our service. What we do we can do only through His grace and even after we have done all we could do we must look upon ourselves as useless servants who have done nothing but their duty. For the lover of Christ the wish, the example, the interests of Jesus are a command. Narrow selfishness has time and energy for amassing the goods of this world, for securing comfort and pleasure, but has neither for the advancement of the cause of Christ. This is the reason why the cause of Christ does not make better progress in the world. The Presentation suggests particularly to priests and Religious the spirit of joyous self-immolation. Their very state of life is synonymous with it. They offered themselves on the day of their ordination or profession; they were called by name and they answered with a joyful adsum, ‘present’. Let them not be sorry for what they have done, nor take back what they have given, when in the course of time God takes them at their word and gives them to drink of the cup of suffering. The grain of wheat must give up its own life in order to live in the grains that grow from it.

The mystery of the Presentation thus understood leads to Jesus, Priest and Victim in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It points to prayer, humility, the spirit of sacrifice and joyous self-immolation in the pursuance of the interests of God and souls. They are the means by which to overcome the selfishness and worldliness of men, the pleasure-seeking and flight from the cross that interfere so much with the following of Christ and the extension of His Kingdom. Also in our case it is true that, “This child is destined for the fall and for the rise of many,” Our success, perseverance and salvation depend upon the attitude we take toward Jesus.

– from Message of the Rosary – Joyful Mysteries, by Father Aloysius Biskupek, S.V.D.