I propose that there is a mystical connection between Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception and Christ’s cleansing of the Temple as told in the Gospel of St. John. Unlike in the Synoptic Gospels, in St. John’s Gospel the cleansing of the Temple occurs at the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry, not long after the Wedding at Cana.* Here’s the aftermath of Our Lord knocking over the tables (2:18-22; emphasis added):
“18 The Jews, therefore, answered, and said to Him: What sign dost thou shew unto us, seeing thou dost these things? 19 Jesus answered, and said to them: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 The Jews then said: Six and forty years was this temple in building; and wilt thou raise it up in three days? 21 But He spoke of the temple of His body. 22 When therefore He was risen again from the dead, His disciples remembered, that He had said this, and they believed the scripture, and the word that Jesus had said.”
I propose that there’s a hidden meaning to the number 46 years that explains its presence in the text. Like the Temple of Herod, Our Lord’s Body was, at this point, 46 years in the making. For that was the number of years from the Immaculate Conception to the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry. For sake of argument, let’s say Our Lord was born on December 25, 1 B.C. According to tradition, His Mother was 15 years old when she gave birth, so she was born on September 8, 16 B.C. Her Immaculate Conception therefore took place on Dec. 8, 17 B.C.** Our Lord was 30 when He began His public ministry, so it was approximately A.D. 30-31. Add Our Lord’s age (30) to the time from Our Lady’s conception to Our Lord’s birth (approximately 16 years) and you get 46 years.
This would be a providential fact. Herod began restoring the Second Temple at the same time God restored the human race by creating Mary as an immaculate temple for His Son. Herod’s Temple was in the works for 46 years, and Our Lord’s Body was in the works for 46 years, beginning with the conception of His Mother in the womb of St. Anne. When the Jews ask their question, “Six and forty years was this temple in building; and wilt thou raise it up in three days?” they miss Our Lord’s reference to His Passion and Resurrection***. But they also (I propose) miss their own unwitting prophetic testimony to the Immaculate Conception.
There is a further analogy. By means of the Immaculate Conception, God created Mary as a pure temple for housing Our Lord’s Body. Consider the prayer of Pére Jacques Marquette, S.J., to Our Lady (emphasis added):
“Hail daughter of God the Father, hail Mother of God the Son, hail spouse of God the Holy Ghost, hail temple of all the Persons of the Trinity, by your holy virginity and your Immaculate Conception, make clean my heart and my song.”
Our Lady is immaculate, but the Temple of Jerusalem was not, nor are the souls of sinners. If we are to imitate Our Lady and become temples of the indwelling Blessed Trinity, Christ must cleanse our souls, just as He cleansed the Temple. We can question Christ’s right to do this, as the unbelieving Jews did, or we can follow Our Lady’s guidance at the Wedding at Cana: “Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye” (St. John 2:5).
*Where Our Lady intercedes, telling the waiters, “Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye” (St. John 2:5). Our Lady is mentioned again at 2:12: “After this He went down to Capharnaum, He and His mother, and His brethren, and His disciples: and they remained there not many days.” The cleansing of the Temple narrative begins at verse 2:13. I will suggest that the Marian context of the Wedding of Cana helps us understand the cleansing of the Temple narrative that follows.
**Another example of Divine Providence: using traditional dates, we can calculate Our Lady as being conceived in 17 B.C. In that very year, the Romans under Augustus celebrated the Secular Games (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_Games#Augustus). The Secular Games were held every 110 years or so to celebrate the passing of an entire human generation (the longest human lifespan being 110 years) since the last celebration of the games. The Secular Games involved purificatory rites and heralded the rise of a new generation. Likewise, Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception marks the end of the generation of Adam and Eve, doomed to die in sin, and the rise of a new regenerate race of men and women, purified from past stain of sin. Too far-fetched? Not for the God Who timed His Son’s Birth precisely when a census called by Augustus would summon Joseph, of the House of David, up from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, all that Scripture might be fulfilled (St. Luke 2:1-5).
***In a bit of foreshadowing, St. John specifies that Our Lord cleansed the Temple at the time of Passover (verse 2:13). His Passion and Resurrection (alluded to in verses 2:19-22) will follow at a later Passover, as the culmination of the antipathy He first received from the unbelieving Jews when He cleansed the Temple.