The Presentation in the Temple
"Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed."
"Christ is the source of redemption, and the fountain of Grace. Mary, on the other hand, is the channel through which Christ works: He passes through her womb in order to enter the world as a human being, the inauguration of His public ministry is brought about through her active intercession, and His suffering on the Cross is, in some mystical way, the suffering of this "woman" who labors to become the Mother of the Church."
Editor's Note: Apologist Jacob Michael returns after a summer hiatus to present a succinct Traditional Catholic Apologetic based on the Holy Scriptures in his column Quid Dicit Scriptura? - What Saith the Scriptures? He utilizes the approved and superior Douay-Rheims Roman Catholic version in his apologia and holds to the Council of Trent's decree to "accept Sacred Scripture according to the meaning which has been held by Holy Mother Church and which She now holds. It is Her prerogative to pass judgment on the true meaning and interpretation of Sacred Scripture and will not accept or interpret it in a manner different from the unanimous agreement of the Fathers."
Some passages below are highlighted in blue bold for emphasis. All words of Our Lord are in red bold.
Finally, we come to the third presentation in Scripture of Mary's role as Mediatrix. St. Luke describes the scene at the temple:
And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord: As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon: and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. And the Holy Ghost was in him.
And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when His parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he also took Him into his arms and blessed God and said Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace: Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.
And His father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother: "Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed."(Luke 2:21-35)
As this narrative begins, the very first thing set before us is Jesus, being offered to God at the hands of Mary. She brings Him to the temple, St. Luke says, to "present" Him. The verb used here is parastesai, which is also used elsewhere in Scripture with sacrificial connotations:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present [parastesai] your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service. (Rom. 12:1)
Even if we did not have this extra-narrative text from St. Paul, the scene painted by St. Luke is, by itself, strongly undergirded with sacrificial notes: Jesus is brought to the temple, the place of sacrifice, and the text reminds us that Mary came there specifically "to offer a sacrifice." (vs. 24)
Thus, the Presentation in the Temple is, from the very start, a prefiguration of Christ's Passion. This is fully in keeping with St. Luke's "temple" narratives. In the next narrative we find Jesus, separated from His parents, staying in the temple (again, the place of sacrifice) while His parents sought after Him "sorrowing." It is no coincidence that it takes them "three days" to find Him. All of this is highly suggestive of the Crucifixion, and indeed, this is the symbolic backdrop to the Presentation narrative.
We come, then, to the prophecy of Simeon, which unquestionably cements the picture in our mind of the Passion, Redemption, and Mary's role in these events.
The key phrase is, of course, the words of Simeon spoken to Mary: "And thy own soul a sword shall pierce." What is the meaning of these highly-charged words? On the surface of it, we may be tempted to interpret this as nothing more than a reference to Mary's sorrow at seeing her Son crucified. While that is certainly a viable interpretive option for us, this prediction must, of necessity, go above and beyond the surface meaning. Why? Quite simply, because the sorrow of Mary at the death of her only Son is a self-evident proposition, requiring no special prophetic insight on the part of Simeon. If this is all the text means, then Simeon has done nothing more than state the obvious.
If we examine the words of his prophecy carefully, we begin to see a clearer pattern evolve, a definite structure to his words. We may break the prophecy down into four parts:
1. "Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel."
2. "A sign which shall be contradicted."
3. "Thy own soul a sword shall pierce."
4. "Out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed."
There is a very subtle progression in each part of this prophecy, 1) beginning with the childhood of Jesus, 2) moving on to His persecuted ministry, 3) from there to the Passion, and finally, 4) to the Judgment.
Further, the first three statements are loaded with symbols of the Passion. The first statement, referring to the "fall and resurrection of many," evokes images of the "stumbling stone" presented by the prophets. St. Paul links this image directly to the Cross:
But we preach Christ crucified: unto the Jews indeed a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness. (1 Cor. 1:23)
The second statement, the "sign which shall be contradicted," is also a symbol of the Passion. The word "contradicted" is antilego in the Greek. Anti means "against," and lego - a form of logos - refers to a word, or speaking. In Latin, we would say contradiceur. This is where we get the word "contradiction," which is why Simeon's statement is often translated as "a sign of contradiction." (as it is in the Douay Rheims) We find this same Greek word used by St. Paul in the letter to the Hebrews:
Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who, having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. For think diligently upon him that endured such opposition [antilogia] from sinners against himself that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds. (Heb. 12:2-3)
Notice, then, how "contradiction," or antilogia, is linked to the shame of the cross by St. Paul. Thus, the first two statements of Simeon's prophecy are directly connected to the Passion of Our Lord.
The fourth statement, the revealing of many hearts, recalls the words of Jesus:
And when He is come, He will convince the world of sin and of justice and of judgment. Of sin: because they believed not in Me. And of justice: because I go to the Father: and you shall see Me no longer. And of judgment: because the prince of this world is already judged. (John 16:8-11)
Thus we have a pattern established in the first, second, and fourth statements of Simeon's prophecy. He begins by speaking of the Passion, and ends by speaking of the Judgment. But what about the third statement?
Almost inexplicably, Simeon interrupts the flow of his prophecy to address a statement to Mary personally: "Thy own soul a sword shall pierce." This statement is almost an aside, a parenthetical comment, but its placement in the order of statements is striking.
Although Simeon speaks in general and veiled terms about the opposition that the Messiah will face, he makes no direct mention of the Passion. The closest he comes is his statement to Mary. That is, just as St. John, in the Book of the Apocalypse 12, made reference to the Passion by making reference to the suffering Mother, so also Simeon refers to the Passion of Christ by way of reference to Mary's soul being pierced.
The language is striking: he says that Mary's soul will be "pierced," yet the prophets all speak of the Messiah as the one who is "pierced":
But he was wounded [chalal, "pierced"] for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. (Is. 53:5)
And I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace, and of prayers: and they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced: and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for an only son, and they shall grieve over him, as the manner is to grieve for the death of the firstborn. (Zacharias 12:10)
For many dogs have encompassed me: the council of the malignant hath besieged me. They have dug [karah, "to dig through"] my hands and feet. (Ps. 21:17)
In this symbolic way, Mary is heavily linked to the Passion. The piercing of the Messiah is referred to only by symbolic reference to the piercing of Mary's soul. Once again, the location of Mary, right at the center of these prophecies of the Passion, is meant by the author to communicate her unique role in the work of redemption. She participates so intimately that the suffering of the Christ is referred to as her suffering, and His piercing is referred to as her piercing. Indeed, the suffering of the Messiah and the suffering of His mother is presented in Simeon's prophecy as a single, united act of martyrdom.
And so we conclude our examination of the biblical evidence for Mary's role as Mediatrix. It is undeniable that her role, while distinct and separate from Christ's, is still so intricately woven into Christ's work that they are presented as a cohesive whole by these two biblical authors.
Christ is the source of redemption, and the fountain of Grace. Mary, on the other hand, is the channel through which Christ works: He passes through her womb in order to enter the world as a human being, the inauguration of His public ministry is brought about through her active intercession, and His suffering on the Cross is, in some mystical way, the suffering of this "woman" who labors to become the Mother of the Church.
We must never confuse Christ with Mary or Mary with Christ, or imagine that she acts independently of Him. He is the source of Grace, and with no source to draw from, Mary would have nothing to dispense.
We may draw an analogy to help us understand how their roles are both tightly interwoven yet completely separate: if I wish to consume a bottle of Pepsi right now, I may walk down the hall to the Pepsi vending machine and purchase a bottle. Is the vending machine the source of the Pepsi? Only in a secondary way. The true source of the Pepsi is the Pepsi plant where the beverage is made, bottled, and shipped out to the public. Yet, while the Pepsi plant is the source of the beverage which I am drinking, it was dispensed to me through the medium of the vending machine.
So it is with Christ and His Mother. He is the source of Grace, the very fountain from which it flows, and His Mother is the channel through which He chooses to dispense that Grace. All Grace comes from Christ, but all Grace comes through Mary.
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