By Deacon Juan Sandoval
As part of the 11:15 a.m. Spanish-language service, we often celebrate children with two rites: the presentation of a first born child, and the presentation of a three year old. Each of these follows traditions from the time of Abraham. These presentations are usually prayed after the peace in a regular Sunday Holy Eucharist service.
The offering or consecration of firstborn is closely related to the offering of first fruits; it is likely that the Israelites incorporated it from other peoples. Some commentators even think that, in its origin, it was the sacrifice of the firstborn, and they point us to the case of Abraham (Genesis 22). Other passages comment on this consecration (Exodus 22:29; Deuteronomy 13: 14-16). There were also passages against the sacrifice of children and there are many references in the Old Testament. It was considered abominable practice.
But, the ultimate reason for the consecration refers to the remembrance of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, when the Egyptian male firstborn died and those of the Israelites were saved. The readings used are Exodus 13; Psalm 84: 1-6; Luke 2: 22-28.
The presentation of a three year old is an act of thanks and has ancient roots. The first vestiges of the act are found in Genesis, when Abraham and Sarah give thanks and offer a feast when weaning Isaac (Genesis 21: 1-8). In the second book of Maccabees (7:27), it is said that children were breastfed for three years. The same is read in the apocryphal work of the Gospel of the birth of Mary, but there we read: “And when they were three years old, and the time of weaning was over, they brought the Virgin to the temple of the Lord with offerings.”
Evidently, at that age the children had overcome a difficult time during which many died due to conditions of that era. It was thus a “rite of transition” to another better stage of life. Today the parents bring the child to the temple to give thanks to God. The readings often used are Genesis 21: 1-8; Psalm 118: 1-4; Matthew 19: 13-15.
These are offered to celebrate these traditions throughout the year for the newborn and for the child attaining three years of age. These are wonderful and beloved practices for our Spanish speaking service.