The Israelites prayed for the Messias to come quickly and rid them of this murderous Herod and make them the great nation they had once been. God told Simeon, a holy priest, that he should not die until his eyes had seen the Christ. He must, then, come soon for Simeon was growing very old.
There were living at that, time a holy man and woman of the tribe of Juda and of the family of David, named Joachim and Anna, and when their little daughter, Mary, was born, they determined to give her back to God. So when she was almost three years old, her parents took her to the great temple at Jerusalem and helped her up the long flight of marble steps. At the top stood the old high-priest waiting to receive her. It broke their hearts to leave her there but they were glad to have given to God their greatest treasure.
The little Mary grew up in the temple and learned to care for the beautiful lamps and sew on the vestments worn by the priests. There were many other little girls there and they all loved her, for she was so pure and truthful and kind. She had never committed the smallest sin, but her little companions did not dream that, unlike them, she had been born without original sin and that the instant God had created her soul. He had clothed it in sanctifying grace. Yet if she knew how holy and pure she was, she did not think more of herself on that account, but thanked God for having been so good to her. How happy her guardian angel must have been in caring for her!
Often the girls, as they grew older, would talk of the coming of the Messias, of the King, and wonder what He would be like and who His mother would be. Mary would hear one say:
"I am going to try to be very good and then perhaps God will let me be His mother,"
"I am going to pray and pray that God may choose me." Mary would listen to all and say nothing, for deep in her heart she felt that she could never be worthy to be the mother of the Christ. When she was about fifteen years old, the high priest told her that it was time for her to marry, and Joseph, a very holy man of about thirty-five or forty years of age, was chosen for her husband. He was a carpenter from the town of Nazareth, and so Mary left the temple and went there to live. Both worked hard, as they were poor, but they were very happy, for they loved God above everything else.
Far over the hills lived Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, and her husband, Zachary. He was a priest and offered sacrifices in the great temple when it was his turn. Their one sorrow was that they had no children. They had often prayed to God to give them a child and now they were growing very old. One day it was Zachary's turn to offer incense in the temple and all the people waited in the court whilst he went, clothed in his vestments, alone, behind the beautiful curtain, into the Holy Place or Sanctuary.
There on an altar of solid gold he burned the incense and watched the smoke rise in the air as a sign of the prayers the people sent up to God. Only a curtain hung between the Holy Place, where he stood, and the Holy of Holies, which had held the tent or tabernacle with the ark beneath. Over all had rested the miraculous cloud, a sign of God's presence among them. But the Holy of Holies had been empty for five hundred years and only a stone marked the spot where the lost ark had been.
As Zachary was burning the incense, there suddenly stood at the right of the golden altar the magnificent archangel Gabriel, who told him that he had been sent from Heaven by God to tell him that he would have a son, who should be called John, and who would be great before the Lord and prepare men's hearts for the coming of the Christ. Zachary had waited so long for a son that he doubted the angel's word and asked for some sign that he might know that it was true. Then Gabriel told him that he would be dumb and unable to speak a word until the boy was born, because he had doubted his message.
The angel vanished and Zachary, trembling with fear, left the Holy Place and stood before the people, who had become frightened at his long stay in the sanctuary. Zachary could not speak to them but let them know by gestures that he had received a message from God. Then he went home and by writing and signs told Elizabeth what had happened.
The fact that the stain of original sin never touched the soul of the Blessed Virgin is called her Immaculate or unspotted, conception. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception kept on the eighth of December, is a holy day of obligation.
Say the little prayer: ''O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."
(1) Who were Anna and Joachim?
(2) Tell about Mary's life in the temple.
(3) What do you mean by her Immaculate Conception?
(4) On what day is this feast kept and how?
(5) Tell about Zachary's vision in the Holy Place.
Source: Catholic Teaching for Children, Imprimatur 1898
A coloring picture is available below.