Purification of Mary

views updated


The ceremony performed by the mother of god in the temple of Jerusalem 40 days after the birth of Christ in fulfillment of the Mosaic Law requiring the cleansing of a woman from the ritual impurity incurred at childbirth. This rite is one of several prescribed in the Old Law to render a person pure who has been legally defiled.

The rite of purification after childbirth consisted in the offering of a pigeon or turtledove as a sin offering. (The accompanying sacrifice of a yearling lamb, for which a poor woman could substitute a second pigeon or turtledove, is not part of the purification ceremony itself, but a holocaust of thanksgiving for a successful delivery.) The ceremony took place 40 days after the birth of a male child, 80 days after that of a female (Lv 12.18).

The sacrifice for purification was unnecessary for Mary. However, as a faithful Israelite obedient to the Law, she accomplished the prescription of the Mosaic code by offering two turtledoves. To the ceremony of purification of the mother was joined that of the dedication of the firstborn son who did not belong to the tribe of Levi. The law was fulfilled by the payment of five shekels to "redeem" the childto have a levite take his place in the direct service of Yahweh. There was no express regulation demanding the traditional presentation of the child to the Lord and it was therefore not necessary that this ceremony be performed by the priests. More likely it was performed by the parents, and in the case of Our Lord, also by Simeon who "received him into his arms and blessed God" (Lk 2.28).

This double ceremony, a mystery of the obedience of Jesus and Mary, was marked not only by the fulfillment of Simeon's desire to see the "Christ of the Lord" but also by his prophecy concerning the mother and child: "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce " (Lk2.3435). Anna, an elderly woman, joined in the praises of the Christ Child and "spoke of him to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem" (Lk 2.38).

The liturgical celebration of this double event originated in Jerusalem, where as early as the 4th century it was celebrated under the title of "the fortieth day after the Epiphany." The feast spread to Byzantium in the 6th century as [symbol omitted]παπάντη (the "meeting" of Jesus and Mary with Simeon) and finally to Rome in the 7th century, where it acquired the title Purification of Mary. However, the Roman liturgy still refers in its greater part not to the Purification of Mary but to the Presentation of Jesus.

Feast: Feb. 2.

See Also: presentation of mary; mary, blessed virgin, articles on.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 196667. s. garofalo, Mary in the Bible, tr. t. j. tobin (Milwaukee 1961). g. m. roschini, Mariologia, 2 v. in 4 (2d ed. Rome 194748) 2.3:136139. d. attwater, comp., Dictionary of Mary (New York 1957) 232233. h.j. schulz, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 195765) 7:66.

[p. j. gaffney]