The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the holidays that seems to get lost in all of the Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations every year. But, despite it not being as flashy of other beloved Marian holidays such as the Annunciation or the Assumption, it behooves a Christian to pause at this time every year to consider what this feast means.
This feast is one of a series of three Marian feasts that mirror those of Christ―her birthday (September 8), a celebration of her Holy Name (September 12) and her presentation in the Temple (November 21). The Christian will note that these are the three holidays in which we celebrate the major milestones of Christ's infancy as well. (i.e., Christmas (December 25), the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3) and His Presentation at the Temple (February 2).
On November 21, hundreds of millions of Christians will celebrate the momentous occasion of Sts. Joachim and Anne bringing their child, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the Temple in Jerusalem for a blessing.
Yes… even Jesus had grandparents. Doting, wonderful, Jewish grandparents. If Joachim and Anne had raised such a wonderful child as the Blessed Virgin Mary, imagine how great they must have been as Jesus' nono and nona.
Who couldn't love a grandmother? In Italy, they are revered. There are even "Best Nona" contests held throughout the country. There's an old expression used there to remind naughty children what the pecking order in the universe is: God, grandmother and mother… in that order. Everyone else falls in line from there on and they do so happily. After these hallowed three, it's catch as catch can.
Considering this universal reverence, it only follows that we as a Church would want to know about Christ's grandparentage. If we all have wonderful grandmothers who helped to form us in faith, certainly our Lord would have had one. As it so happens, according to the non-canonical Protoevangelium of St. James written in AD 200, we know Christ's maternal grandparents were Sts. Anne and Joachim. In many ways, the story of St. Anne parallels that of Hannah bearing Samuel (1 Samuel 1). It's interesting to note that Anne and Hannah are the same name in Hebrew. For those who are counting, according to St. Matthew's Gospel, Christ's paternal grandfather was named Jacob (Matthew 1:12). St. Luke lists his name as Heli (Luke 3:23). I've come across no reference to Jacob's wife but, as a grandmother, how could she be anything less than wonderful and saintly?
The Protoevangelium describes Joachim as a rich farmer and herdsman and a native son of Nazareth. Akar, Anne's father, gave up his nomadic ways and brought his wife to Nazareth to give birth to their daughter. Joachim married Anne when he was still a young man and Anne was in her forties. The couple was childless and greatly reviled because, among the ancient Jews, childlessness was seen as a curse and a mark of unworthiness. After fervent prayers on both of their parts, an angel appeared to Anne assuring her that she would give birth a child who would be praised throughout the world. At that, Anne replied to the angel that she would raise the child as a gift to God, dedicating the child to serving Him in holiness. At the same moment, another angel delivered the same message to Joachim who then ran home to share the news with Anne. Tradition teaches that the blessed grandparents lived to see Jesus' birth and subsequent dedication at the Temple at Jerusalem.
According to the apocryphal Infancy Narrative of James, once Mary was born, her parents brought her to the Temple to consecrate her to God.
In the similarly apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, the Blessed Virgin was taken to the Temple at around the age of three to fulfill a vow her parents. Upon seeing her, a priest of the Temple greeted her with words reminiscent of the Magnificat―"All of Israel loved her."
According to this document, Mary remained in the Temple to be educated in the Faith until the age of 12.
Of course, this is all from apocryphal texts but, though he noted their dubious origin, Pope Paul VI described their content in the 1974 encyclical Marialis Cultus, saying "despite its apocryphal content, it presents lofty and exemplary values and carries on the venerable traditions having their origins in the Eastern churches."
This feast day has been celebrated by the Church since the sixth century.
This feast is an opportunity for Christians to stop and consider Mary's role in salvific history. It was her assent to God that eradicated Eve's willful "no." It was Mary's self-giving that countermanded Eve's selfishness. It was Mary's trust in God that set us upon the Road to Salvation — as opposed to Eve's trust in the Serpent, which set our species upon the Road to Perdition.
Mary was predestined to become the living temple of God, the Throne of Wisdom, the Ark of the Covenant, the Mirror of Justice, Mystical Rose and the Cause of our Joy... and our Joy is Christ Himself.
Why do we love the Blessed Virgin Mary? Because we loved her Son first. Thus, Mary has become the Refuge of sinners, Comforter of the afflicted and the Help of Christians everywhere.