The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 35.

Chapter 13.

The Purification. Part 1.

Forty days after the birth of our Saviour, the Virgin considered it her duty to repair to Jerusalem, to obey the precept of Leviticus, which prescribed the purification of mothers, and the ransom of the first-horn. Doubtless this law did not oblige Mary; for if she had been a mother for our Redeemer, she had remained a virgin for herself, and her conception without stain had been followed by a parturition without defilement: " but she submitted voluntarily, for an example to the world, to a penal law to which she was only so far subject," says Bossuet, "as her virginal maternity was unknown."

Poorly equipped, and lost in the crowd on their first appearance upon the dusty road of Ephrata, Joseph and Mary, who had not attracted any notice, had not either left behind them those long recollections which pass into tradition among nations. It was different on their return to Jerusalem; thanks, no doubt, to the miraculous recitals of the shepherds, and the • brilliant visit of the Magi. At some distance from Bethlehem, Mary rested beneath a turpentine-tree to give the breast to her divine Infant, and this tree, according to the common belief, had from that time a hidden virtue which effected, during sixteen centuries, a multitude of wonderful cures. This, at least, is related by the Christians of Asia and the Turks, to whom this tree was still, two centuries ago, an object of veneration and a term of pilgrimage. 1

After this halt, the memory of which is preserved, the holy spouses arrived at the tomb of Rachel, 2 where every Hebrew was bound to pray as be passed. This tumulus of primitive times, which was composed of twelve great stones eaten by moss, upon each of which was read the name of a tribe of Israel, had no epitaph but a white rose of Syria; sweet and frail emblem of the beauty of that young woman, who faded at the moment when she had just blossomed, like the flower spoken of by Job. As they stopped to say the prayer for the dead over the revered dust of one of the saints of their nation, the Virgin and Joseph little thought that the plaintive cries of the dove which the Scripture attributes to this fair Assyrian, would so soon be applicable; and that the mother of 'Joseph and Benjamin was the desolate type of mothers who would bewail, some days afterwards, upon the mountains of Judea, their children massacred instead of Jesus Christ.

On leaving the valley of Rephaim, whose old oaks overshadowed the grassy tombs of the giants of the race of Enac, the virgin perceived a tree of forbidding aspect, the sight of which afflicted her heart. It was a barren olive-tree, which spread its pale foliage to the breezes of the night, and the mournful noise of which resembled the moaning of some human being. As she passed under its melancholy branches, which no bird of heaven enlivened with its song, Mary felt that sensation of poisonous cold diffused by the fatal shade of the manchineel-tree. This tree, if the local tradition was not mistaken, was the "infamous" wood on which Christ was nailed.

At the very moment when Joseph and Mary made their way into the second inclosure, with the sides of silver for the ransom and the doves for sacrifice, a holy old man, named Simeon, 3 to whom it had been divinely revealed that he should not die till he had seen Christ the Lord, came into the portico by inspiration of the Spirit of God. At the sight of the Holy Family, the eye of the just man became inspired; discovering the King Messias beneath the poor swaddling-clothes of the people, he took him from the arms of his mother, lifted him on to his face, and began to contemplate him with emotion, while tears of joy rolled down his venerable cheeks. " Now," cried out the pious old man, raising up his streaming eyes to heaven, " now thou dost dismiss thy servant, 0 Lord, according to thy word, in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel." As he finished these words, Simeon solemnly blessed the holy pair; and then addressing himself to Mary, after a mournful and grave silence, he added that this child, born for the ruin and resurrection of many in Israel, would be a sign of contradiction to men, and that sorrow should pierce the soul of his mother like the sharp point of a sword.

By this unexpected light, which shed a sombre gleam over the great destiny of Christ, the ignominies, the sufferings, and agonies of the cross, were disclosed at once to the Blessed Virgin. The inauspicious words of Simeon, like a stormy wind, made her bend down her head, and her heart was painfully oppressed. 4 But Mary knew how to accept, without complaint and without murmur, all that came to her from God; her pale lips were placed upon this chalice of wormwood and gall; she drained it even to the dregs, and then said, sweetly, as she dried up her tears, " O Lord, thy will be done! " At that moment the daughter of Abraham was exalted above the head and father of her people; she, too, sacrificed her son upon the altar of the Lord, but she had the sad assurance that the sacrifice would be accepted,— and she was a mother !

She was still pondering in her mind these deep thoughts, when a prophetess came in, named Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser, who was far advanced in years. This holy widow departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving God night and day. At the sight of the divine Infant, she began to praise the Lord aloud, and to speak of him to those who looked for the redemption of Israel.

" Not only," says St. Ambrose on this subject, " does the generation of the Lord receive testimony from angels, and prophets, and shepherds, but also from the aged and the just. Every age, and both sexes, and the miracles of events attest it. A Virgin brings forth, one that was barren becomes a mother, the dumb speaks, Elizabeth prophesies, the Magian adores, he who is shut up in the womb leaps for joy, the widow proclaims, the just expects."

As the farthest court of the temple was forbidden to Mary, and as the infant, on account of his sex, was to be offered there to the Lord, Joseph himself carried him into the court of the first-born, asking himself at the same time whether the scenes which had taken place at the entrance of Jesus into the holy house would be renewed in the compartment of the Hebrew priests. But nothing discovered the infant God in this privileged part of the temple; everything there remained sad and frozen beneath the rising ray of the young Sun of justice. A priest unknown to Joseph received in a desultory manner from the rough hands of the man of the people, whom he regarded as the " offscouring of the world," 5 the timid birds ordained by the law, and did not even deign to honour Christ with a single look. The love of gold— that shameful idolatry, which hides its unacknowledged worship in the shade as long as it retains enough shame to blush —had changed into hard stone the narrow, egotistical, and malignant heart 6 of the princes of the synagogue. Leaving the monopoly of labour and privations to the simple Levites, whom they reduced to live upon herbs and dried figs, 7 they passed by the poor man stretched upon their marble thresholds, and the traveller wounded in the mountain pathway, turning their heads away with indifference ; in reality they loved neither God nor men. And with this does our Lord, who himself instituted a priesthood exclusively of charity, reproach them, with holy and piercing irony, in the parable of the Samaritan. Therefore, as Malachy had announced, " God cursed their benedictions," and turned away his face from their temple, which he was soon to deliver up to the sword and fire of the Romans.

1 This tree, under which Mary rested to give Jesus the breast, was destroyed during the century before the last, hut the memory of the place where it was is still preserved.

2 According to the Jewish doctors, Jacob buried his beloved wife on the road to Bethlehem, only because his prophetic knowledge led him to discover that a portion of his descendants would follow this road as captives of the Assyrians, and because he wished that Rachel might intercede for them to Jehovah, as they passed before her tomb. The Protestants have declaimed strongly against the Talmudists on account of this passage, which favours the intercession of the Virgin and of the saints. This tomb of Rachel was in such veneration, that all the Jews who passed by it made it a religious duty to engrave their names on one of the stones: these enormous stones were twelve in number.—(Talm. de Jer.) We know that the tears of Rachel, spoken of by Jeremias, were only a figure of the tears shed by the Jewish women after the massacre of the innocents.—(St. Matt. xi. 17,18.)

3 The Arabs give Simeon the title of Siddik (he who verifies), because he bore witness to the coming of the true Messias, in the person of Jesus, the son of Mary, whom all Mussulmans are obliged to receive as such.—'D'Herb., Biblioth. Orientale, t. iii. p. 266.)

4 "Mary, my sovereign," says St. Anselm on this subject, "I cannot believe that you could have lived a moment with such sorrow, had not God strengthened you, who gives life."

5 Prideaux, History of the Jews.

6 The Jewish doctors had then, and still have, a maxim which fills us with horror : they hold that he who does not nourish his hatred, and avenge himself, is unworthy of the name of rabbin. (Basn., liv. vi. c. 17.)

7 The luxury and avarice of the chief priests of Jerusalem were incredible. The pontiffs sent people into the country to take the tithes in the granaries, and appropriate them to themselves, which left the inferior priests to die of hunger. At the least remonstrance the miserable Levites were accused of revolt and insubordination, and delivered up to the Romans : the governor Felix alone cast forty of them into prison, out of complaisance to the doctors and princes of the synagogue.—(Josephus, Vita.)