Today we celebrate the presentation of the infant Christ in the temple of Jerusalem by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The temple of the Lord received the temple of the Lord from the temple of the Lord.
The temple of Solomon was completed around the year 963 BC after seven years of labor. From the time of Moses until then, the presence of the Lord had dwelt in the tabernacle wherever it was. But when the temple was completed and dedicated, this new dwelling was larger, more ornate, more encrusted with gold, consecrated with more and lavish sacrifices. In all ways, it was the fulfillment of King David’s dream to give greater glory to God than ever before.
That temple, of course, was sacked by the Babylonians in 586 BC when they took the city and looted it, taking all the treasures from the temple and breaking up the gold utensils used for worship. The second temple was begun fifty years later, took twenty years to build, and lasted until the Romans definitively ended the temple forever in 70 AD. But from the wandering in the Sinai desert until the legions marched back to Rome, the whole notion was a concrete presence of the transcendent God among men. In some mysterious way, He was contained by the temple.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was also the place in which the God of Israel dwelt. It was in her chaste womb that the real presence of the hypostatic union was conceived and grew. We can therefore see both the tabernacle and the temples in Jerusalem as foreshadowings of the Mother of God, just as the ark of the covenant, which held the Ten Commandments and manna as symbols of Christ, also foreshadowed the Mother of God.
Over all others, however, Christ Jesus Himself is the temple of God. His sacred humanity was, by its unity with the Person of the Word, the dwelling of God among men. He is the temple of God par excellence, conceived by the Holy Spirit, presented by that temple of the God who was sanctified in her conception by the Holy Spirit, offered in that temple of God which was constructed of stones and made by human hands. The Old Testament prefigurement finds in the temples of Mary and Christ Jesus fulfillment and perfection.
This place, too, by its dedication, became a temple of God for us who by our baptism are likewise temples of the Triune God for worship in spirit and in truth. He is present in us through His grace and word and sacrament.
But our celebration here is somehow incomplete. Look back to the Old Testament. In every way the temple of Solomon was superior to the tabernacle of Moses except this: mobility. The stone temple of Solomon was fixed forever in place, which has its own prophecy of our place in heaven, but thereby it could not also carry the meaning of its lesser predecessor. The tabernacle, however less grand, was meant to accompany the people of God on their journey through the desert and wherever in the Holy Land God wanted to be. It carried God’s word into the midst of pagan lands, and in this it prophesied the movement of Christ Jesus throughout His people and even into pagan cities.
And that is how our celebration today is brought to perfection. We, as temples of God, have gathered in this temple of God, but like the tabernacle we have to carry the presence of Christ away from here, take the light which enlightens every man coming into this world as a revelation among a people no less pagan than the Canaanites of old—which we can do with confidence so long as we remember that we too are carried in the arms of the Mother of God.
Given 2/2/24 at St. Michael’s Abbey