November 21 – Sulpician Patronal Feast

The founder of the Sulpicians, Jean-Jacques OLIER (1607-1658), like many members of the French School of Spirituality, had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He specifically desired that the members of the Society of Saint Sulpice celebrate as their patronal feast the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, which occurs each year on November 21. Indeed, Father Olier entrusted his newly formed community for the formation of priests, who became known as the Sulpicians, to the protection of Mary. This is the reason that the overlapping initials “A” and “M” are found in all Sulpician institutions, representing the Latin expression “auspice Maria” – under the protection of Mary.

This feast of the Presentation has ancient roots in both the East and West, probably dating to around the 6th century, though it expanded considerably in the 11th century and was popular in the Middle Ages. In the East it is known as “The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple,” whereas the West calls it the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. It is based upon an apocryphal infancy narrative that records the names of Mary’s parents (Anna and Joachim) and narrates the account of their presentation of their virgin daughter in the Temple at Jerusalem for consecrated service to the Lord. The scene has also inspired numerous artistic representations throughout the history of art in both the East and West.

It is not difficult to discern the reason for Father Olier’s choice of this day as the patronal feast of the Society of Saint Sulpice. Mary provides a perfect model for priesthood. Her docility to God’s will, her willingness to say “yes” to God’s mysterious message given to her at the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) that she would bear a Son, and her great prayer of thanksgiving and praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), are all emblematic of the ideal ministry of priests who are called to dedicate themselves entirely to the Lord’s service. Mary’s assent, “let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), is the perfect priestly response to the call to serve the Lord through the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

Recent popes have also drawn attention to Mary’s potential as a model for priestly ministry. In particular, Blessed Pope John Paul II invoked Mary as the “mother of priests” at the end of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis (1992). There he says:

“Every aspect of priestly formation can be referred to Mary, the human being who has responded better than any other to God’s call. Mary became both the servant and the disciple of the Word to the point of conceiving, in her heart and in her flesh, the Word made man, so as to give him to mankind. Mary was called to educate the one eternal priest, who became docile and subject to her motherly authority. With her example and intercession the Blessed Virgin keeps vigilant watch over the growth of vocations and priestly life in the Church.” (#82)
With these words the pope has given us Sulpicians encouragement in our special ministry of priestly formation, inspired and protected by a loving mother’s care. In bygone days, the seminarians in Sulpician seminaries humorously referred to this feast as “Sulpician Christmas.”

In 1996 the Sulpicians received permission from the Holy See to add this feast to our special liturgical calendar, along with certain other important Sulpician commemorations.

So, Happy Feast Day to all Sulpicians! May the Blessed Virgin truly protect and guide us in our ministry.

 molieres eglise vitrail 1Henri Feur, The Presentation of Mary at the Temple, detail of a stained glass window in the church of Molières (Dordogne, France)