Today is the feast of the presentation of Mary to the temple, a feast that mirrors Christ’s presentation in that same temple. Legend states that when an Angel revealed that Anne was present with the Lord, she vowed that Child to the Lord. Mary climbed those steps into the temple when she was three to four years old and was received by John the Baptists father, the priest Zacharias. Think then of that feast of the visitation when Mary visits Johns mother Elizabeth: “Blessed art though and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Elizabeth, the priest Zacharias’s wife, knew that when Mary walked up those steps into that temple, Mary stood in the presence of the Lord. Mary stayed at that temple, the holies of holies for ten years. When she walked back down those steps, how could that Lord leave her presence? When she came down from the temple, and was betrothed to Joseph, the Lord walked with her. She carried that Lord with her for eternity, and with that she became that tabernacle, and the image of Church. In her decent from those temple steps, she brought her Lord from the walls of that building to humanity; and her visit with Elizabeth in a way marks the start of her procession.
In so many of the paintings of this event, the artists dramatically emphasize the steps that lead up to the temple. They are as portrayed as almost a mountain, and in looking at them I can’t help but think of the other mountaintop events of the bible; Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses at the burning bush, and the Transfiguration of Mary’s Son. Like Moses, Mary climbs those steps to converse with God. Like her Son, she is transfigured to become the Theotokos or God-bearer or Birth-Giver of God. Mary climbs those steps fully human, and descends them the same way; though in her humanity she never turns away from God. Always immaculate, she never succumbs to the stain of sin. Yet, when she descends from that temple she does walk back into that very messy and sinful human condition. The difference though is that she brings that salvation, her Son Jesus, back into the midst of humanity; so that He might lead us sinners back to the presence of the Lord that she was so adept at conversing with.