The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Luke 2:22-40
When the days were completed for [her] purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord has been called the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary – and although the Marian nature of this feast has been completely lost in the reformed calendar, at least the date has remained: As the new mother went to the Temple forty days after having given birth, so too the Blessed Virgin Mother of God came to fulfill the Law through her Purification.
But why did Mary come to the Temple to be purified? Was she not already most pure? Had her Son defiled her in his most wondrous Birth? No, certainly he did not – in being born of the Virgin, Christ did no harm to her virginal integrity but rather consecrated it. Simply speaking, Mary had no need of purification, but she humbled herself (after the example of her Son) to follow the precepts of the Law which was soon to pass away.
The Purity of the Virgin Mary
Mary was, of course, most pure in body and in soul. Principally, she was pure in her mind and in her heart. Having been conceived without original sin, she was filled with the Holy Spirit from the first moment of her conception. Her heart was a cloister, a walled garden, wherein God dwelt in hidden majesty.
In this purity of heart and mind, Mary’s body also participated perfectly. A virgin in her heart, she was likewise a virgin in her body. This virginal integrity was not ruptured or destroyed by the conception of her Holy Son – for he was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not of man. Likewise, she remained a virgin even in giving birth – he who entered without opening the womb, came forth in a manner most pure. Even as light passes through glass, so Christ came forth from the womb of his virgin Mother.
Hence, in Mary’s body and soul we see the perfect fulfillment of Solomon’s prophecy: “Bridegroom: My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up. […] Bride: Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat the fruit of his apple trees. Bridegroom: I am come into my garden, O my sister, my spouse, I have gathered my myrrh, with my aromatical spices: I have eaten the honeycomb with my honey, I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends, and drink, and be inebriated, my dearly beloved. […] Bride: My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the bed of aromatical spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. I to my beloved, and my beloved to me, who feedeth among the lilies. […]Daughters of Jerusalem: The daughters saw her, and declared her most blessed: the queens and concubines, and they praised her. Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array? […] Daughters of Jerusalem: Who is this that cometh up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning upon her beloved? Bridegroom: Under the apple tree I raised thee up: there thy mother was corrupted, there she was defloured that bore thee. […] Bride: I am a wall: and my breasts are as a tower since I am become in his presence as one finding peace.”
The Mother follows the example of the Son
In all things, Mary followed the example of her Son. Thus, as Christ submitted to the observances of the Law (though he was not subject to the Law by nature, he willed to become subject to it and so to free from the law all those under the Law), so too the Blessed Virgin Mary desired to fulfill all the prescripts of the Law. In this voluntary submission to the observances of the Law, Mary gave to us an example of humility and obedience, and also took away from the Jews any excuse for calumniating either her or her Child. She who had no uncleanness, willed to observe the ritual of purification, not for her own sake, but on account of the precept of the Law – for this reason, St. Luke states “according to the Law,” i.e. that the Law might be fulfilled in her who had no need of purification in herself.
Indeed, “as the fullness of grace flowed from Christ on to his Mother, so it was becoming that the mother should be like her Son in humility.” (ST III, q.37, a.4) For this reason also, Mary, who was in no way subject to death as she was entirely without sin, willed to suffer death in order that she might follow the example of her Son who died. In this regard, the Greeks seem to have erred, for they refuse to admit the expiration of the Virgin, calling it rather a sleep or dormition – they are not yet bound to embrace the Latin tradition; therefore, there is some freedom for speculation in this regard. [see my correction/clarification of this point in the comment box, Feb 2 at 6:26am]
The impiety of some modern scholars
There is, however, no freedom for speculation in regards to the purity of the Virgin Mother. Some scholars have gone so far as to impinge upon the corporal virginity of Mary – impiously claiming that the first act of the Christ Child, upon coming into the world, was to harm the virginal integrity of his mother!
These “scholars” betray their insincerity when they cite Luke 2:23, “As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.” They will claim that, because Luke applies the precept of the Law to Jesus; this entails that the Child did “open the womb” of his Mother, and so remove her virginity. Yet, it is well known that these same “learned” men will regularly doubt the historical veracity of the sacred text – declaring that what has been written is the reflection not of history but of the belief of the early Christians. Why, then, do they insist so strongly on the historical certainty of this rupture of Mary’s virginity? When else have these “scholars” ever taken the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy so literally?
In any case, the citation of the Law is from the Second Book of Moses: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Sanctify unto me every firstborn that openeth the womb among the children of Israel […] Thou shalt set apart all that openeth the womb for the Lord.” (Exodus 13:1,12) However, Christ had in himself no need of being sanctified through the rituals of the Old Law; therefore it is clear that he did not open the womb of his Mother.
Moreover, Moses wrote that “If a woman having received seed shall bear a man child, she shall be unclean seven days, according to the days of the separation of her flowers. And on the eighth day the infant shall be circumcised: But she shall remain three and thirty days in the blood of her purification.” (Leviticus 12:2-4) However, Mary did not conceive the Christ Child through the reception of the seed of any man, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, “Moses seems to have chosen his words in order to exclude uncleanness from the Mother of God, who was with child without receiving seed.” (ST III, q.37, a.4, ad 2)
Therefore, it is clear that neither was she made unclean by the Birth of Jesus, nor did she suffer the loss of her virginal integrity. Rather, in body and in soul, Mary remained always the Most Pure Virgin.