Her ten years spent in the Temple stamped upon Mary's life and memory indelible patterns of devotion and continual service to God and to those He indicated, for she knew no family but His. Waking and sleeping, He was all there was, and all duties were joyfully and meticulously carried out for His sake. She looked to Him as her present help in all things, her strength and foundation, her purpose for being, her Father and Counselor.
Her years were spent there at the very same time that Herod was rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem.
She was well-taught in the Scriptures and the basics of Hebrew religion, as well as certain skills in useful occupations.
It is said she became skilled in weaving wool and linen, as well as fine cloth of gold, but that her special work was with purple wool. The Jews had borrowed from their neighbors, the Phoenicians, the art of giving to the fabrics they wove that exquisite purple dye so much prized in the ancient world.
During her years of Temple service, her closest companions were not humans but angelic beings.
In one of her revelations, Mary has related as follows:
"I used to rise in the middle of the night, and with much longing and will and love I used to beg Almighty God to give me the grace to observe the three precepts and all the other commandments of His Law. And I used to pray these seven petitions:
"1. I prayed for the grace to fulfill the precept of charity: to love God with all my heart.
"2. I prayed for the grace to love my neighbor according to His will and pleasure, and that He should make me love all that He Himself loves.
"3. I prayed that He make me hate and flee all that He hates.
"4. I prayed for humility, patience, kindness, gentleness, and all virtues by which I might become pleasing in His sight.
"5. I prayed that He should let me see the time when that most holy virgin would be born who was to give birth to the Son of God, and that He preserve my eyes that I might see her, my ears that I might hear her, my tongue that I might praise her, my hands that I might work for her, my feet that I might walk as her servant, and my knees that I might adore the Son of God in her lap.
"6. I prayed for the grace of obeying the orders and rules of the High Priest of the Temple.
"7. I prayed that God should preserve the Temple and all His people for His service.
"I assure you that I considered myself a most worthless creature and one unworthy of God's grace, therefore I begged Him to give me grace and virtues.
"The Lord did with me what a musician does with his harp. The musician sets and tunes all the strings so that they give forth a sweet and harmonious melody, and then he sings while playing it. Thus God brought into harmony with His will my soul and heart and mind, and all the senses and actions of my body, and trained me in this manner by His wisdom."
It was customary at the age of puberty to send home all the young virgins, lest the awakening desire nature should change the purity of their service.
When Mary was between twelve and fourteen years of age the Priests met in a council to decide what they should do with the child, because as she was coming into womanhood, they feared lest the holy place of the Lord should be defiled, and it was expected that every Hebrew girl should take a husband as soon as she achieved maturity.
The High Priests made a public order that all the young virgins who had public settlements in the temple and had come to this age should now return home, as they were now of proper maturity and should, according to the custom of their country, endeavor to be married.
All the other virgins readily yielded to this command. But Mary answered that she could not comply with it because both she and her parents had devoted her to the service of the Lord.
This posed a difficulty for the High Priest, who dared not dissolve a vow on the one hand, or disobey Scripture on the other, which says "Vow and pay." Neither could he change the customs of the people.
There was a feast approaching in which the principle persons, both of Jerusalem and the neighboring places, would be meeting together. And he decided to wait and receive their advice as how he would best proceed in so difficult a case.
When, therefore, all the Priests met together, Zacharias, the High Priest, was advised to enter into the Holy Place and make a petition to the Lord concerning what should be done. It was assured that the Lord would manifest unto him true counsel. The High Priest entered into the Holy of Holies, taking with him the breastplate of judgment. He made prayers concerning her. There came the voice of the angel of the Lord saying to him, "Zacharias, go forth and call together all the widowers and all the men of the house and family of David who are of marriageable age and not married, and let them bring their several rods to the altar.
"Test them, for out of the person's rod, after it was brought, a flower should bud forth, and on the top of this the Spirit of the Lord would sit in the appearance of a dove. The person whose rod receives this sign would be the man to whom the Virgin should be betrothed."
Zacharias the High Priest sent criers throughout the surrounding territory, and the trumpet of the Lord was sounded to draw the people together. Among those who came to listen was Joseph, who had laid aside the hatchet with which he had been working, to come and hear the proclamation.
Though he was required to bring his rod, being among those eligible, when the others presented theirs he held back. So when nothing happened as the rods were presented, the High Priest was forced to go and consult God again.
It was told by the angel of the Lord that the person to whom the Virgin should be betrothed was the only person of those who had not brought his rod forth. Therefore, Joseph was found out and commanded to bring his rod, and when he did so a dove coming down from heaven perched on the top of it, which everyone plainly saw, and it was he who was then betrothed to the Virgin.
The High Priest overcame Joseph's objection by reminding him of others in the past who had been commanded by God.
So the usual ceremony of betrothing was administered after which Joseph returned to his own home to set his house in order and make the necessary provisions for the coming marriage. Then he went back to his trade of building until the time should be finished when the marriage should be consummated.
Mary, along with seven other virgins of the same age who had been appointed by the High Priest to attend to her, returned to her parents' house in Galilee. The prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled when he said:
"There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a flower shall spring out of its root, and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and piety, and the spirit of the fear of the Lord shall fill him."