I see Mary between Her father and mother walking through the streets in Jerusalem.
Passers-by stop to look at the beautiful girl all dressed in white and wearing a very light mantle that, due to its pattern in branches and flowers, which are a little darker against the soft background, seems to be the same as the one that Anne was wearing on the day of her Purification. The only difference is that while it reached down to Anne’s waist, in the case of Mary, Who is only a little girl, it reaches down to Her ankles and wraps Her in a small and shining cloud of rare beauty.
Her fair hair, loose on Her shoulders, or rather, on Her gentle neck, shines through the veil where there is no pattern, but only the very light background. The veil is held on Her forehead by a very pale blue ribbon, on which small lilies are embroidered with silver threads, definitely the work of Her mother.
As I said, the snow white dress reaches down to the ground, and Her little feet can just be seen as She walks in Her white sandals. Her hands are like two magnolia petals, peeping from the long sleeves. Apart from the blue ribbon, there is no other colour. It is all white. Mary seems to be dressed in snow.
Joachim is wearing the same garment he had on for the Purification. Anne, instead, is wearing a very dark violet dress. The mantle, which also covers her head, is dark violet too. She is wearing it lowered below her eyes. Two poor eyes of a mother, red with tears, that do not wish to weep and above all do not wish to be seen crying, but can but shed tears under the protection of the mantle. This protection serves its purpose with regards to passers-by and also to Joachim, whose eyes, usually clear, are red and dull today, because of the tears he has shed and is still shedding. He is walking in a bent position, his head is covered by a veil worn in the fashion of a turban, with the folds hanging down along his face.
Joachim now appears an old man. Whoever sees him, must think that he is the grandfather or the great grandfather of the little girl he is holding by the hand. The pain of losing Her causes the poor father to drag his feet and he is so weary that he looks twenty years older. He is so sad and tired that he looks like an old sick man. His mouth trembles slightly between the two wrinkles that at the sides of his nose are so deep today.
They are both endeavouring to conceal their tears. But if they are successful with many people, they are not with Mary, Who, because of Her height, sees them from below, and lifting Her head looks at Her father and mother alternately. They make an effort to smile at Her with their trembling mouths and they hold Her tiny hand tighter every time their little daughter looks at them and smiles. They must be thinking: «There. One less smile for us to see.»
They proceed slowly. Very slowly. They seem to be wishing to carry on their journey for as long as possible. Everything serves as a pretext to stop… But a journey must come to an end! And this one is about to end. Up there, at the top of this last stretch of the road, there are the Temple walls. Anne utters a groan and holds Mary’s hand tighter.
«Anne, my dear, I am here with you!» a voice utters, coming out from the shade of a low arch built over a crossroads. And Elizabeth, who was waiting for them, approaches her and embraces her. And since Anne is crying she says: «Come into this friendly house for a little while. Then we shall go together. Zacharias is here too.»
They all enter a low dark room where the only light is a big fire. The landlady, obviously a friend of Elizabeth, but unknown to Anne, kindly withdraws and leaves them alone.
«You must not think that I am repenting or I am giving my treasure to the Lord unwillingly» explains Anne crying, «but it’s my heart… oh! how my heart aches, my old heart that is returning to its childless solitude! If you could only feel…»
«I know, my dear Anne… But you are good and God will console you in your solitude. Mary will pray for the peace of Her mother. Won’t you, Mary?»
Mary caresses Her mother’s hands and kisses them. She presses them to Her face to be caressed and Anne holds Her little face tightly in her hands and kisses it repeatedly. She is never tired of kissing Her.
Zacharias enters and greets them saying: «May the peace of the Lord be with the just.»
«Yes» replies Joachim, «implore peace for us, because our hearts are trembling in our offer, as Abraham’s did, while he was climbing the mountain, but we shall not find another offer to replace this one. Neither do we want it, because we are faithful to the Lord. But we are suffering, Zacharias. Since you are a priest of God, please understand us and do not be perturbed.»
«Never. On the contrary, your sorrow which does not go beyond reasonable limits and does not shake your faith, teaches me how to love the Most High. But take heart. Anna, the prophetess, will take care of this flower of David and Aaron. At present She is the only lily of David’s holy issue in the Temple and She will be taken care of just like a royal pearl. Although we are approaching the time when the Messiah is to come, and the women belonging to the house of David should be anxious to consecrate their daughters to the Temple, because the Messiah will be born of a virgin of David, yet, because of the general weakening of faith, the places of the virgins in the Temple are empty. They are too few and none of the royal offspring, since Sarah of Elisha left three years ago to get married. It is true that there are still thirty years to the appointed time, but… Well let us hope that Mary will be the first of many virgins of David’s offspring before the Sacred Veil. And then… who knows…» Zacharias does not say anything else. But he looks at Mary thoughtfully. Then he resumes: «Also I will watch over Her. I am a priest and I have power there. I will make use of it for this angel. And Elizabeth will often come to see Her.»
«Oh! Certainly! I am in such need of God that I will come and tell this little Girl, so that She may tell the Eternal One.»
Anne has taken heart again. To relieve her anxiety even more Elizabeth asks her: «Is this not the veil of your wedding? Or have you been weaving new byssus?»
«It is. I am consecrating it to the Lord with Her. My eyes are not so good… and also our wealth has been reduced by taxation and misfortunes… I could not afford huge expenses. I have only seen to Her clothing for the time She will be in the House of the Lord and afterwards… Because I do not think that I will be the one to dress Her for Her wedding… but I want it to be the hands of Her mummy, even if cold and motionless, which prepare Her for the wedding and weave Her linens and dresses.»
«Oh! Why think of that!?»
«I am old, my dear cousin. I have never felt it so much as I do now in my great pain. I have given the last ounce of strength in my life to this flower, to bear Her and to nourish Her, and now the pain of losing Her is drawing my last strength away and dispersing it.»
«Don’t say that, for Joachim’s sake.»
«Yes, you are quite right. I will try and live for my husband.»
Joachim pretends not to hear, intent as he is on listening to Zacharias, but he has heard and he sighs deeply, his eyes full of tears.
«It is between the third and the sixth hour. I think we ought to go» Zacharias says.
They all get up to put on their mantles and set off.
But before going out Mary kneels down on the threshold with Her arms stretched out: a little imploring cherub. «Father! Mother! Your blessing, please.»
She is not crying, the little brave girl. But Her lips are trembling and Her voice, broken by a sob, resembles more than ever the trembling cooing of a little dove. Her face is pale, and Her eyes have the look of resigned distress that I will see again on Calvary and in the Sepulchre, where it was so much more intense that it was impossible to look at Her without deep suffering.
Her parents bless Her and kiss Her: once, twice, ten times, they are never satisfied… Elizabeth is weeping silently and Zacharias, despite his efforts to conceal his tears, is deeply moved.
They go out. Mary is in between Her father and mother as before. Zacharias and his wife are in front of them.
They are now inside the walls of the Temple. «I will go to the High Priest. You go to the Great Terrace.»
They go across three yards and through three halls, set one upon the other. They are now at the foot of the huge marble cube crowned with gold. Every dome, convex like a huge half orange, blazes in the sun, which now, at midday, is shining down directly onto the large yard surrounding the solemn building and is filling with its dazzling light the large square and the wide flight of steps leading up to the Temple. Only the porch facing the steps, along the façade, is in the shade and the very high bronze and gold door is even darker and more solemn looking in so much light.
Mary looks whiter than snow in so much sunshine. She is now at the foot of the steps, between Her father and Her mother. How violently their hearts must be throbbing! Elizabeth is beside Anne, but a little behind her, about half a step.
Upon the blare of silver trumpets the door rotates on its hinges, which seem to be emitting the sound of a cithern, while turning on the bronze balls. The interior appears with its lamps in the far end and a procession is moving towards the door, a stately procession with silver trumpets, clouds of incense and lights.
It is now at the threshold. In front is the High Priest… a stately old man, dressed in very fine linen, and wearing over his linen dress a short linen tunic and on top of it a kind of chasuble, something multicoloured between a chasuble and a deacon’s vestment: purple and gold, violet and white alternate and sparkle like gems in the sun: two real gems are shining more brightly at the top of his shoulders. Perhaps they are buckles with their precious settings. On his breast there is a large metal plate shining with gems and held by a gold chain. Pendants and trimmings gleam on the hem of his short tunic and gold shines above his forehead on his mitre, that reminds me of the mitre worn by Orthodox priests, a mitre shaped like a dome instead of being pointed like the Roman Catholic one.
The solemn individual moves forward, alone, as far as the beginning of the steps, in the golden sunshine that makes him look even more splendid. The others stand waiting under the shady porch, in a circle outside the door. On the left there is a group of girls, all dressed in white, with prophetess Anna and other elderly ladies, obviously teachers.
The High Priest looks at the little Girl and smiles. She must look very tiny at the foot of the flight of steps worthy of an Egyptian temple! He lifts his arms to the sky in prayer. They all bow their heads in perfect humility before the priestly majesty communicating with the Eternal Majesty.
Then, he beckons to Mary. And She moves away from Her mother and father, and as if fascinated, climbs the steps. And She smiles. She smiles in the shade of the Temple, where the precious Veil is hanging… She is now at the top of the steps, at the feet of the High Priest, who imposes his hand on Her head. The victim has been accepted. Which purer victim had the Temple ever received?
Then he turns round and, holding his hand on Her shoulder as if he were leading the immaculate little Lamb to the altar, he takes Her to the Temple door. Before letting Her in, he asks Her: «Mary of David, are You aware of Your vow?» When She replies «Yes» in Her silvery voice, he cries out: «Go in, then. Walk in my presence and be perfect.»
Mary enters and is swallowed up by the darkness. The group of virgins and teachers, then the Levites hide and isolate Her more and more… She can no longer be seen…
Also the door is now closing on its sweet-sounding hinges. Through the gap which is becoming narrower and narrower, the procession can be seen advancing towards the Holy of Holies. Now it is only a thread. Now nothing more: it is closed.
The last chord of the harmonious hinges is replicated by a sob from the two old parents and by a joint cry: «Mary! Daughter!» and then two groans, one invoking the other: «Anne!» «Joachim!» and they finish whispering: «Let us give glory to the Lord Who is receiving Her in His House and is leading Her along His path.»
It all ends in this way.
«The High Priest had said: “Walk in my presence and be perfect”. The High Priest did not know that he was speaking to the Woman Who was inferior in perfection only to God. But he was speaking in the name of God, and therefore his order was a sacred one. It is always sacred, particularly with regards to the Virgin Full of Wisdom.
Mary had deserved that “Wisdom should precede Her and show Itself to Her first”, because “from the beginning of Her day She had watched at Its door, and wishing to be taught, out of love, She wanted to be pure to achieve perfect love and deserve to have Wisdom as Her teacher”.
In Her humility She did not know that She possessed Wisdom before being born and that the union with Wisdom was but the continuation of the divine pulsations of Paradise. She could not imagine that. And when God whispered sublime words to Her in the depths of Her heart, in Her humility She considered them thoughts of pride and raising Her innocent heart to God, She besought Him: “Lord, have mercy on Thy Servant!”
Oh! It is true that the True Wise Virgin, the Eternal Virgin, had only one thought from the dawn of Her day: to raise Her heart to God from the morning of life and to watch for the Lord, praying before the Most High, asking forgiveness for the weaknesses of Her heart, as Her humility convinced Her, and She was not aware that She was anticipating the request for forgiveness for sinners, which She would later make at the foot of the Cross, together with Her dying Son.
“When the great Lord will decide, She will be filled with the Spirit of intelligence” and will then understand Her great mission. For the time being She is only a child, who in the sacred peace of the Temple, establishes and re-establishes closer and closer connections, affections and memories with Her God.
This is for everybody. But for you, My little Mary, has your Teacher nothing special to tell you? “Walk in My presence, be therefore perfect”. I am slightly modifying the sacred phrase and I am giving it to you as an order. Be perfect in love, perfect in generosity, perfect in suffering.
Look once again at Mother. And consider what so many ignore or wish to ignore, because sorrow is too irksome to their taste and their spirit. Sorrow. Mary suffered from the very first hour of Her life. To be perfect as She was, implied the possession of a perfect sensitivity. Consequently sacrifice was to be more piercing. And thus more meritorious. He who possesses purity possesses love, he who possesses love possesses wisdom, he who possesses wisdom possesses generosity and heroism, because he knows why he makes a sacrifice.
Raise your spirit, even if the cross bends you, breaks you and kills you. God is with you.»