Q. What event do we commemorate when we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (November 21)?
A. An early Christian text called The Protoevangelium of James (or Gospel of James), dating from around the year A.D.150, was not included by the Church in the canon of Scripture. But its influence on the Christian tradition was extensive, especially with regard to the understanding of Mary. The book claims to describe events surrounding her conception, her childhood, her marriage to Joseph, the conception and birth of Jesus, and circumstances that immediately followed the Nativity. It is the earliest surviving text to affirm the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Mother, and it is the primary source for the tradition that her parents were named Anna (or Anne) and Joachim.
The Protoevangelium describes a scene in which the child Mary, at the age of three, was presented to God by her parents in the Temple at Jerusalem to fulfill a vow they had made to consecrate her to God. She remained there until she had come of age and was then given into the care of Joseph as her guardian.
This ancient book probably originated in Syria, and it was most likely in that same region that a feast commemorating Mary’s presentation in the Temple was earliest observed. We find the feast noted in various liturgical documents in later centuries. It appears first in the Christian East, where it is known as “The Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God into the Temple.” The celebration appeared somewhat later in the West, first in a variety of local settings but eventually throughout the universal Church.