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Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Feast of the Presentation


And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her. - The Protoevangelium of James

Today is the prelude of God's good-will and the heralding of the salvation of mankind. In the temple of God, the Virgin is presented openly, and she proclaimeth Christ unto all. To her, then, with a great voice let us cry aloud: Rejoice, O thou fulfilment of the Creator's dispensation! - Troparion. Tone 4.

The most pure temple of the Saviour, the most precious bridal-chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasure of the glory of God, is on this day brought into the house of the Lord, bringing with her the grace that is in the Divine Spirit. And the angels of God chant praise unto her: she is the heavenly tabernacle. - Kontakion. Tone 4.

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple. The troparion and kontakion for the day really say it all. We are blessed to be able to share in the New Covenant in Christ through Baptism, and it is through Our Lady that this was made possible. As, under the Old Covenant, the Ark of the Covenant was fashioned to house the word - the Law - of God, which was a mere shadow of things to come, so Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, for she housed, nurtured and presented to the world the Logos, the Incarnate Word of God, Who is the fulfilment of the Law and the fruition of all things. For this purpose she was prepared and sanctified and through her desire to conform her will to that of God, the lowly Hebrew maiden became the Mother of her God.

The story in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James tells of her being dedicated to the Lord by her parents, the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna, and her being presented to the Temple at the age of three years. We are told of how she lived in the Holy of Holies (the Debir, which is the part of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant would have been housed), where she was fed daily by Angels.

While the story itself may be a little fanciful (but not impossible!), it is permeated with the Truth of God. Whether or not a young girl would have been allowed into the temple - and in the Debir at that - is something about which I am not qualified to comment. We know that Our Lady was of a priestly caste and so it is possible that she grew up in the temple grounds with people of similar lineage, which may form the basis of the story. I simply do not know.

What I do know is that a mythical reading of the story robs it of none of its truth. I do see it as a myth - a story that may or may not be historically true, but the historicity of which is irrelevant to the deeper truth that is contained therein. And the deeper truth of this story is that Mary, a young Jewish girl, wholly gave herself over to the will of God, that she became the dwelling-place of the Most High, the Ark of the New Covenant, the precious bridal-chamber wherein heaven was wedded to earth, where eternity and the created realm of space and time were united, and where the divine Logos condescended to become human, that he may conquer death, show forth the Resurrection, and ultimately, take that human nature into the heavenly state at his glorious Ascension.

For this the Church gives thanks and praise to God and due honour to his blessed Mother.

Wherefore, let all faithful people
tell the honour of her name;
let the Church, in her foreshadowed,
part in her thanksgiving claim.
What Christ's mother sang in gladness,
let Christ's people sing the same.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!

7 comments:

Mark said...

Michael,

What is your email these days? Mine is ramakesava at gmail dot com

Mark said...

Oh, ignore that! I just saw it!

Luz said...

This is one of my favourite hymns - before the ordination of women in the C of E I would always find an Anglo-Catholic Church to go to on their Annunciation just to sing it!

Michael Astley said...

It is quite fabulous, isn't it! Have you seen the full version? Most of the hymnals only contain an emasculated form, and while some of the missing verses usually appear in the Church Union's Ordo, I have only ever seen the full version in The English Catholic Hymn Book, (fairly recently reprinted by the good people at St Matthew's, Willesden).

It reads thus:

Ye who own the Faith of Jesus,
sing the wonders that were done,
when the love of God the Father
o'er our sin the vict'ry won,
when He made the Virgin Mary
Mother of his only Son.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!


Blessed were the chosen people
out of whom the Lord did come;
blessed was the land of promise,
fashioned for his earthly home:
but more blessed far the Mother,
she who bare him in her womb.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!


For the King of men and Angels
chose her out of all He made,
and in robes of grace and glory
her humility arrayed;
with the radiant sun He clothed her,
at her feet the moon He laid.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!


Thus prepared, and thus exalted,
lowly still, and still unknown,
Mary waited till the fullness
of her destiny was shown,
till the maid became God's Mother
and her nursing arms his throne.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!


So of her that loved and suffered
was our better Samuel born;
so did Sion's Virgin Daughter
laugh Assyria's might to scorn;
so did Esther, daring all things,
lift again the captives' horn.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!


Wherefore, let all faithful people
tell the honour of her name,
let the Church, in her foreshadowed,
part in her thanksgiving claim;
what Christ's Mother sang in gladness,
let Christ's people sing the same.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!


Let us weave our supplications,
she with us and we with her,
for th'advancement of the faithful,
for each faithful worshipper,
for the doubting, for the sinful,
for each heedless wanderer.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!


May the Mother's intercessions
on our homes a blessing win,
that the children all be prosper'd,
strong, and fair, and pure within,
following Our Lord's own footsteps,
firm in faith and free from sin.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!


For the sick and for the aged,
for our dear ones far away,
for the hearts that mourn in secret,
all who need our prayers today,
for the faithful gone before us,
may the holy Virgin pray.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!


As we sing, her prayer is rising,
for her heart with us is one;
we with confidence will ask it,
that the Mother from her Son
may obtain the full fruition
of his work in us begun.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!


Praise, O Mary, praise the Father,
praise thy Saviour and thy Son,
praise the everlasting Spirit,
Who hath made thee Ark and Throne;
o'er the Seraphim exalted,
lowly, praise the Three-in-One.
Hail, Mary! Hail, Mary!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!

Luz said...

St Matthew's, Willesden! Yes, that was the best place to sing it. I have some very happy memories there. Thank you for printing the whole thing again - I had forgotten some of it. So many hymns are cut down to fit in hymnals, one wonders why they bother.

Luz said...

I see you link to the British Orthodox Resurgence website. Do you know who runs it? It's interesting but I don't like websites that give no indication of who is behind them.

Michael Astley said...

Dear luz,

Good to see you back. I agree with you entirely about the shortening of hymns. The New English Hymnal isn't as bad as some but it is certainly guilty. One of my favourite hymns for Feasts of Saints is Hark, the Sound of Holy Voices, set to Deerhurst. The NEH takes the first four lines of one verse and combines them with the last four lines of the next, omitting the eight lines in between, resulting in:

They have come from tribulation,
and have washed their robes in blood,
washed them in the Blood of Jesus;
tried they were, and firm they stood;
gladly, Lord, with Thee they suffered;
gladly, Lord, with Thee they died,
and by death to life immortal
they were born and glorified.


This is all well and good, except you miss the wonderfully tear-jerking lines which express the sort of thing that those before us were willing to suffer for the Faith, which are included here:

They have come from tribulation,
and have washed their robes in blood,
washed them in the Blood of Jesus;
tried they were, and firm they stood;
mocked, imprisoned, stoned tormented,
sawn asunder, slain with sword;
they have conquered death and Satan
through the might of Christ the Lord.

Marching with the Cross their banner,
they have triumphed following
Thee, their Captain of Salvation,
Thee, their Saviour and their King;

gladly, Lord, with Thee they suffered;
gladly, Lord, with Thee they died,
and by death to life immortal
they were born and glorified.


Why on earth would anybody want to omit lines like those?

As for the Orthodox Resurgence site, I'm pleased that you find it interesting and yes I do know who is behind it and can assure you of its legitimacy. There are reasons for the discretion but if you contact me privately, I'd be happy to talk a bit more. :-)