November 21, 2018

How the West Came to Celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary

Detail from The Presentation of the Virgin Mary by Titian
(1534-38, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice).

The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos was officially celebrated in Constantinople by the ninth century. By the fourteenth century, the Eastern Orthodox Churches were universally celebrating the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple as one of its Twelve Great Feasts on November 21st. In the West, it was only celebrated in the Greek-speaking monasteries of Southern Italy since the ninth century.

It was introduced in the West by a French nobleman, Philippe de Mazières, Chancellor of the King of Cyprus. In 1372 he came to the court of Charles V in Avignon, and related to him and to Pope Gregory XI, the last of the Avignon Popes, that in the East, where he had lived a long time, the feast which the Greeks called the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple was annually celebrated. Philippe informs us: "I reflected that this great feast was not known in the Western Church, and when I was ambassador from the King of Cyprus to the Pope, I spoke to him about this festival, and presented him the office of it; he had it carefully examined by the cardinals, prelates, and doctors of theology, and permitted the feast to be celebrated."

Thus in 1372 the feast was first celebrated by the cardinals in Avignon based on the original Greek office. In 1373 it was adopted in the royal chapel at Paris, 1418 at Metz, 1420 at Cologne. Pope Pius II granted the feast with a vigil to the Duke of Saxony in 1460. It was taken up by many dioceses, but at the end of the Middle Ages, it was still missing in many calendars. At Toledo in 1500 it was assigned by Cardinal Ximenes to 30 September. Pope Sixtus IV received it into the Roman Breviary, Pope Pius V struck it from the calendar, but Pope Sixtus V took it up a second time on 1 September, 1585. From that time it became generally accepted and celebrated in the West, and came to be celebrated on November 21st in imitation of the Orthodox Church.

In the 1974 encyclical Marialis Cultus, Pope Paul VI wrote that "despite its apocryphal content, it presents lofty and exemplary values and carries on the venerable traditions having their origins in the Eastern Churches." Because the feast commemorated the presentation of the Virgin to the temple, it became known in the West as the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.