THE PURIFICATION OF MARY
THE GREAT SACRIFICE WHICH MARY MADE ON THIS DAY TO GOD IN OFFERING HIM THE LIFE OF HER SON
In the Old Law there were two precepts concerning the birth of first-born son. One was, that the mother should remain as unclean, retired in her house for forty days; after which she was to go to purify herself in the Temple. The other was, that the parents of the firstborn son should take him to the Temple, and there offer him to God. On this day the most Blessed Virgin obeyed both these precepts. Although Mary was not bound by the law of Purification, since she was always a virgin and always pure, yet her humility and obedience made her wish to go like other mothers to purify herself. She at the same time obeyed the second precept, to present and offer her Son to the Eternal Father. 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 (Luke ii. 22). But the Blessed Virgin did not offer Him as other mothers offered their sons. Others, indeed, offered them to God; but they knew that this oblation was simply a legal ceremony, and that by redeeming them they made them their own, without fear of having again to offer them to death. Mary really offered her Son to death, and knew for certain that the sacrifice of the life of Jesus which she then made was one day to be actually consummated on the Altar of the Cross; so that Mary, by offering the life of her Son, came, in consequence of the love she bore this Son, really to sacrifice her own entire self to God.
The Eternal Father had already determined to save man who was lost by sin, and to deliver him from eternal death. But because He willed at the same time that His Divine justice should not be defrauded of a due and worthy satisfaction, He spared not the life of His Son already become Man to redeem man, but willed that He should pay with the utmost rigour the penalty which men had deserved. He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all (Rom. viii. 32). He sent Him, therefore, on earth to become Man. He destined Him a Mother and willed that this Mother should be the Blessed Virgin Mary. But as He willed not that His Divine Word should become her Son before she by an express consent had accepted Him, so also He willed not that Jesus should sacrifice His life for the salvation of men without the concurrent assent of Mary; that, together with the sacrifice of the life of the Son, the Mother’s heart might also be sacrificed. St. Thomas teaches that the quality of mother gives her a special right over her children; hence, Jesus being in Himself innocent and undeserving of punishment, it seemed fitting that He should not be condemned to the Cross as a Victim for the sins of the world without the consent of His Mother, by which she should willingly offer Him to death.
But although from the moment she became the Mother of Jesus, Mary consented to His death, yet God willed that on this day she should make a solemn sacrifice of herself by offering her Son to Him in the Temple, sacrificing His precious life to Divine justice. Hence St. Epiphanius calls her “a priest.” And now we begin to see how much this sacrifice cost her, and what heroic virtues she had to practise when she herself subscribed to the sentence by which her beloved Jesus was condemned to death.
Behold Mary is actually on her road to Jerusalem to offer her Son; she hastens her steps towards the place of sacrifice and she herself bears the beloved Victim in her arms. She enters the Temple, approaches the altar, and there, beaming with modesty, devotion, and humility, presents her Son to the Most High. In the meantime the holy Simeon who had received a promise from God that he should not die without having first seen the expected Messias, takes the Divine Child from the arms of the Blessed Virgin, and, enlightened by the Holy Ghost, announces to her how much the sacrifice she then made of her Son would cost her, and that with Him her own blessed soul would also be sacrificed.
Here St. Thomas of Villanova contemplates the holy old man becoming troubled and silent at the thought of having to give utterance to a Prophecy so fatal to this poor Mother. The Saint then looks on Mary who asks him: “Why, O Simeon, art thou thus troubled in the midst of such great consolations?” “O royal Virgin,” he replies, “I would desire not to announce thee tidings so bitter; but since God thus wills it for thy greater merit, listen to what I have to say. This Child, Who is now such a source of joy to thee — and, O God, with how much reason! — this Child, I say, will one day be a source of such bitter grief to thee as no creature in the world has ever experienced. And this will be when thou seest Him persecuted by men of every class, and made a butt upon earth for their scoffs and outrages; they will even go so far as to put Him to death as a malefactor before thine own eyes! Thou so greatly rejoicest in this Infant; but, behold, He is placed for a sign that shall be contradicted. Know that after His death there will be many Martyrs, who for the love of this Son of thine will be tormented and put to death; their Martyrdom, however, will be endured in their bodies; but thine, O Divine Mother, will be endured in thy heart. O, how many thousands of men will be torn to pieces and put to death for the love of this Child! And although they will all suffer much in their bodies, thou, O Virgin, wilt suffer much more in thy heart.”
Yes, in her heart; for compassion for the sufferings of this most beloved Son was alone the sword of sorrow which was to pierce the heart of the Mother, as St. Simeon exactly foretold: And thy own soul a sword shall pierce (Luke ii. 35). Already the most blessed Virgin, as St. Jerome says, was enlightened by the Sacred Scriptures, and knew the suffering that the Redeemer was to endure in His life, and still more at the time of His death. She fully understood from the Prophets that He was to be betrayed by one of His disciples: For even the man of my peace, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, hath greatly supplanted me (Ps. xl. 10), as David foretold: that He was to be abandoned by them: Strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered (Zach. xiii. 7). She well knew the contempt, the spitting, the blows, the derisions that He was to suffer from the people: I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me and that spit upon me (Is. 1. 6). She knew that He was to become the reproach of men, and the outcast and the most degraded of the people, so as to be saturated with insults and injuries: But I am a worm, and no man: the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people (Ps. xxi. 7). He shall be filled with reproaches (Lam. iii. 30). She knew that at the end of His life His most sacred flesh would be torn and mangled by scourges: But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins (Is. liii. 5). And this to such a degree that His whole body was to be disfigured, and become like that of a leper — all wounds and the bones appearing. There is no beauty in him nor comeliness … and we have thought him, as it were, a leper (Is. liii. 2). They have numbered all my bones (Ps. xxi. 18). She knew that He was to be pierced by nails: They have dug my hands and feet (Ps. xxi. 17). To be ranked with malefactors: And was reputed with the wicked (Is. liii. 12). And that finally, hanging on a Cross, He was to die for the salvation of men: And they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced (Zach. xii. 10).