Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE PURIFICATION OF SAINT MARY THE VIRGIN.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Kalender calls us back to the Holy Childhood of Our Lord. It is a welcome call. We were loathe to leave the Festival after Epiphany. We knew that strange and stern events pressed for commemoration. The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany ordinarily would call us to consider the miracle of the healing of the centurion's servant. But the Festival entitled "The Presentation of Christ in the Temple" commonly called "The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin" falls this year on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany and takes precedence. So then, we shall think of the double event commemorated by this festival and we shall take them in the order of the Prayer Book.
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. What did it mean? The Gospel tells us, "they brought Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord." Our Lord carried to the Temple by the Blessed Mother and offered to the heavenly Father. In that offering Mary offered the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. Her offering was unique. Mary was not as other mothers. Her Son was not as other sons. Other mothers presented their sons "as it was written in the law of the Lord. Every male child that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord. But "this child," as Simeon declared, "is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against."
Led by the Spirit, Simeon came into the Temple at the time of the Presentation. "Then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.'" So did Mary present her Son in the exercise of the ministry appointed to her by God, and announced to her by the message of an angel.
"And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, Mary came to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons." There was no need for her to offer that sacrifice. An angel from heaven had saluted her, "Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."
Mary is ever Virgin, before, during and after the conception and in the bringing forth of Her only Child. Of that Child she is Mother. Because this Child is called, as the angel announced, the Son of God, the Church, "to safeguard the truth of the one Person of the Child, at the Council of Ephesus, as well as at the Council of Chalcedon twenty years later, declared that the Blessed Virgin Mary is rightly called Mother of God, that is, the Mother not of the divine nature, but of Him who in all that pertains to both His natures, human and divine, is personally God." This is the meaning of the Festival we celebrate today.
The Collect teaches us to pray that as the only-begotten Son was this day presented in the Temple in substance of our flesh, so we may be presented with pure and clean hearts, by the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
Affectionately in Our Lord,