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Gospel in Art: Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

  • Father Patrick Van der Vorst

The Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple, by Titian. 1534-38  © Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice

The Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple, by Titian. 1534-38 © Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice

Source: Christian Art

Gospel of 21 November 2023
Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance: he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: 'Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.' And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. 'He has gone to stay at a sinner's house' they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, 'Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.'

Reflection on the Wall Painting

The Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary which we celebrate today commemorates the presentation of the Our Lady as a child by her parents (Saints Joachim and Anne) in the temple in Jerusalem. According to an apocryphal gospel usually called The Protoevangelium of James, before Mary's birth her parents received a heavenly message that they would bear a child. In thanksgiving for this gift from God, they brought Mary to the Temple to consecrate their only daughter to the Lord. The celebration of today's feast is first documented in the 11th century within the Byzantine Catholic Church.

One of the most endearing representations of the Presentation of Our Lady is Titian's wall-painting at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Venice. It depicts the three-year-old Mary walking up the steps into the temple. We see a little girl, painted full of confidence. She has just walked up some steps and she looks tiny in a vast world around her filled with officials in lavish dress. The fragile, diminutive figure of Mary walks up the steps, her right hand managing her skirt while her left hand returns the greeting of the High Priest. Another lovely detail is that Mary is given a full-size aureola (the radiance of a luminous cloud surrounding the whole figure), rather than just a halo (which consists of a circle of light shown around or above the head of a saint or holy person to represent their holiness).

We seldom think of Mary as a child. All the images of Mary we see depicted in art throughout the ages, depict Mary as an adult, often holding the child Jesus, or of Mary in heavenly glory. Yet, when we are first introduced to Mary in the gospels at the moment of her annunciation, we should probably think of her as a very young woman. She must have grown up as a child in a very faith-filled home. Otherwise she would not have emerged as a woman of such strong and generous faith at the time of the annunciation. Today's feast celebrates the fact that as a very young child Mary's parents presented her to the Lord in the Temple. They gave her over to the Lord's purpose for her life. It was as if her parents were saying, 'Lord here is our child. We know that she belongs to you more than she belongs to us'. Mary's parents were recognising that her relationship with God was even more significant that her relationship with them. Today's feast reminds us that the most important relationship in our lives is indeed our relationship with God.


Gospel in Art:
Today's Reflection:


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