Today's Gospel reading narrates the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the prophetic words of Simeon and Anna with respect to the child before them.
Luke's description of the reaction of Mary and Joseph to what they heard from Simeon and Anna bear looking at: "And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him."
In particular, the word "amazed" needed examination as it indicates a personal, non-iconic side of Mary which I seem to have overlooked. What else have I missed?
Earlier on, Luke lets us see Mary's character in an intimate moment. Luke tells us that she was left troubled by the angel Gabriel's announcement, "Greetings to you. You who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you."
'The Lord . . . will suddenly come to his Temple.'
To her credit, the enquiring young mind that I had not recognized until this day, would not rest. She asks a spirited question, "How will this be since I am a virgin?" Gabriel offers as proof, the fact of the pregnancy of her cousin Elizabeth, long past child-bearing age.
In the excited human reaction of a very young woman needing to share her story with a trusted older confidant, Mary rushes away to see that same Elizabeth. She tells her of the unusual news of the Angel Gabriel's visit. Elizabeth's confident, unflustered reaction – "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear" – banished whatever lingering confusion or uncertainty.
Reassured by Elizabeth, Mary proclaimed her profound understanding in her hymn of gratitude which we know as the Magnificat – an "amazing" declaration for a person of her age, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour."
But why then, does she feel "amazed" at the words of Simeon and Anna in today's reading?
Between that sublime time of the visit to Elizabeth and the scene in today's reading, months have passed and much has happened: the trials of pregnancy and birth, the wearisome grind of travels by donkey across the distances from Nazareth to Bethlehem and back, and once more from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Presentation.
We can easily appreciate that the daily demands of their moving about might have taken much of the attention of Mary and Joseph. So much so that the stunning prophecies of Simeon and Anna caught both of them up in their preoccupation. They "amazed" the young parents, as Luke puts it.
"Amaze" did it for me. It has led me to consider Mary's complexity and enabled me to escape the impression left by much of the bland statuary in our churches that seems to depict a sort of detachment. Like us she had to contend with the demands of an active life in this world.
But humility whispers, "Others have seen the richness of her nature. Go to the computer and the Internet. See what you might find."
I heeded its counsel and searched the subject heading, "Images of the Virgin Mary in Art." There I found over 900 representations from the sublime to the outrageous.
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)