The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph [B]
Sirach 3:2-6,12-14 [or Genesis 15:1-6;21:1-3] + Colossians 3:12-21 [or Colossians 3:12-17 or Hebrews 11:8,11-12,17-19] + Luke 2:22-40 [or Luke 2:22,39-40]
… they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
On Christmas Day, we heard in the Gospel Reading how God the Father gave His Son Jesus to Mary and Joseph. Because they accepted the present of Jesus, we too are offered this gift each day. We pray especially during Christmas for the humility to accept the gift of Christ into our lives.
On today’s feast of the Holy Family, the Gospel Reading describes the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple. We see how Mary and Joseph give their Son back to God, and to other people as well, and we pray today for the courage to give the gift of Christ to others.
Joseph and Mary are faithful Jews, fulfilling in today’s Gospel Reading one of the laws of Judaism: to take the first-born male and present Him to God in the Temple in Jerusalem. For many Jews, this law was merely something that had to be done. For Mary and Joseph however, fulfilling this law had much more meaning, demonstrating their fidelity to the angelic messages announced to each of them many months earlier.
However, we have to wonder if even Joseph and Mary could at this point in time have understood what this Presentation foreshadowed. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple foreshadows the self-presentation of Jesus on the Cross. This reminds us of an important truth about the Sacred Liturgy: as Advent prepares us for Christmas, so Christmas prepare us for Holy Week.
Some thirty years after the events of today’s Gospel Reading, Mary on Calvary witnessed her Son dying on the Cross because of the sins of others. Mary could very easily have rejected her Son’s sacrifice and pleaded for Him to come down from the Cross. But as deeply as her sorrow pierced her heart as if it were a sword, Mary—ever-faithful—joined the sacrifice of her own will with that of her Son, and consented to His Sacrifice. As Jesus presented his life to the Father on Calvary, Mary presented her son as well. The “fiat” that she offered at the Annunciation and at the Presentation in the Temple was the same “fiat” that she offered on Calvary.
It is the presentation of Christ on Calvary—of His Body and Blood, soul and divinity—that the priest offers at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In turn, it is the presentation of Mary on Calvary—of her own will to God—that we as disciples are called to offer each time we assist at Holy Mass.
Hopefully no one who’s present at Mass thinks that he or she is a passive spectator. Sometimes, religious ceremonies can turn into spectacles, when decorations or music are thought of as more important than what’s being celebrated. If we come to Mass as a spectator, and expect to be entertained, then it’s very likely that we’re not going to get anything out of the Mass, since we haven’t put anything into it.
Kneeling during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, everyone is to be like Mary at Calvary: saying “Fiat” to Jesus’ sacrifice. In this offering we make at Mass, we include everything in our lives that is precious to us. God may not demand from us what we offer, but we must be willing to offer it. In this we need to realize that if God were to take anything of ours, He would simply be taking what He had given to us as a gift in the first place.
We might put all this a different way. When you come up for Holy Communion and say “Amen”, you are saying “Yes, this is truly the Body of Christ that is being presented to me.” But you are saying “Yes” to something more, as well.
Why is God strengthening you with the Body and Blood of His Son? You accept the strength of Jesus’ life because God has a mission for you to carry out. The strength you receive in Holy Communion is given to you, not so that you can use that strength any way you wish. The strength of Christ’s life is presented to you because God has a plan for your life, and He knows that you will fail without this spiritual nourishment to sustain you.
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290–1348)