On this third day of the Fast of the Virgin we read in the Proto-Evangelium of St James, a very early Christian writing…
And when the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated by the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.
We can have two views about this wonderful account. Either it is reasonably accurate historical memorial, or at the very least it represents the attitude of the Christian community towards the Virgin Mary in the middle of the 2nd century when it was perhaps written down. Indeed this is a date given by rather sceptical scholars. Even if we accept such a chronology, this was a time when there were still living some of those who had been actually taught by the Apostles, and a great many who had been taught by the disciples of the Apostles. My own view is that it is substantially the true memory in the Church of the early life of the Virgin St Mary, the Theotokos, and is wonderful and inspiring because of that.
What do we see here? That she was presented to the Temple, as her parents had promised, when she was three years old, and that even at this young age she was captivated by the temple of the Lord. She was filled with peace and joy in being found in the house of God, in that place where he made his presence manifest in those days. In our own times, we may also find great peace and joy in being found in the church buildings in every place where we worship God, but how much more so are we called to enter into that spiritual Temple within the heart and find the divine and glorious presence of God within.
Why should we doubt that the priest of the Temple prophesied in such a manner over the little child? And in her own prophetic praise some years later, when the angelic visitor announced the incarnation to her, how fitting it was that she should express in her own words this prophetic word which had been spoken over her. And already she received grace, so that it was in truth that the angel said, Hail Mary, full of grace, when he addressed her in Nazareth.
In the house of the Lord the infant St Mary danced, and this is remembrance of King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant as he brought it up to Jerusalem to begin the preparation for the building of a Temple. Now St Mary dances, filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, because a new Temple, a spiritual and divinely constructed Temple is to be made, even within her own womb in due course, the very Body of God the Word himself made incarnate.
This Temple is constructed within our heart as we give ourselves to unceasing prayer. Every block is cut and laid with the effort of prayerful attention to God, the seeking of the Holy Spirit, and the giving of humble service to others. There is much pain and brokenness in such a work of spiritual construction, but there is also a joy for those who experience it in their own lives, a joy which is the gift of the indwelling Spirit and is the same expression of the Holy Spirit which was manifested in the life of the Virgin St Mary when she entered the Temple and was filled with grace. May we also ask for grace to build such a house of God within the heart and enter therein by unceasing prayer.