Saint Anne, Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary
from the Liturgical Year, 1909
from the Liturgical Year, 1909
Uniting the blood of kings with that of pontiffs, the glory of Anne's illustrious origin is far surpassed by that of her offspring, without compare among the daughters of Eve. The noblest of all, who have ever conceived by virtue of the command to " increase and multiply," beholds the law of human generation pause before her as having arrived at its summit, at the threshold of God; for, from her fruit God himself is to come forth, the fatherless Son of the Blessed Virgin, and the grandson of Anne and Joachim. Before being favoured with the greatest blessing ever bestowed on an earthly union, the two holy grand-parents of the Word made Flesh had to pass through the purification of suffering. Traditions which, though mingled with details of less authenticity, have come down to us from the very beginning of Christianity, tell us of these noble spouses subjected to the trial of prolonged sterility, and on that account despised by their people; of Joachim cast out of the temple and going to hide his sorrow in the desert; of Anne left alone to mourn her widowhood and humiliation. For exquisite sentiment this narrative might be compared with the most beautiful histories in Holy Scripture.
"It was one of the great festival days of the Lord. In spite of extreme sorrow, Anne laid aside her mourning garments, and adorned her head and clothed herself with her nuptial robes. And about the ninth hour she went down to the garden to walk; seeing a laurel she sat down in its shade, and poured forth her prayer to the Lord God, saying: God of my fathers, bless me and hear my supplication, as thou didst bless Sara and didst give her a son!
And raising her eyes to heaven, she saw in the laurel a sparrow's nest, and sighing she said: Alas! of whom was I born to be thus a curse in Israel?
To whom shall I liken me? I cannot liken me to the birds of the air; for the birds are blessed by thee, O Lord.
To whom shall I liken me? I cannot liken me to the beasts of the earth: for they, too, are fruitful before thee.
To whom shall I liken me? I cannot liken me to the waters; for they are not barren in thy sight, and the rivers and the oceans full of fish praise thee in their heavings and in their peaceful flowing.
To whom shall I liken me? I cannot liken me even to the earth, for the earth, too, bears fruit in season, and praises thee, O Lord.
And behold an Angel of the Lord stood by, and said to her: Anne, God has heard thy prayer; "thou shalt conceive and bear a child, and thy fruit shall be honoured throughout the whole inhabited earth. And in due time Anne brought forth a daughter, and said: My soul is magnified this hour. And she called the child Mary; and giving her the breast, she intoned this canticle to the Lord:
I will sing the praise of the Lord my God: for He has visited me and has taken away my shame, and has given me a fruit of justice. Who shall declare to the sons of Ruben that Anne is become fruitful? Hear, hear, O ye twelve tribes: behold Anne is giving suck (Protevangelium Jacobi)!"
The feast of St. Joachim, which the Church celebrates on the Sunday within the octave of his blessed Daughter's Assumption, will give us an occasion of completing the account of these trials and joys in which he shared. Warned from heaven to leave the desert, he met his spouse at the golden gate which leads to the Temple on the east side.
Not far from here, near the Probatica piscina, where the little white lambs were washed before being offered in sacrifice, now stands the restored basilica of St. Anne, originally called St. Mary of the Nativity. Here, as in a peaceful paradise, the rod of Jesse produced that blessed branch which the Prophet hailed as about to bear the flower that had blossomed from eternity in the bosom of the Father. It is true that Sephoris, Anne's native city, and Nazareth, where Mary lived, dispute with the holy City the honour which ancient and constant tradition assigns to Jerusalem. But our homage will not be misdirected if we offer it today to Blessed Anne, in whom were wrought the prodigies, the very thought of which brings new joy to heaven, rage to Satan, and triumph to the world.
Anne was, as it were, the starting-point of Redemption, the horizon scanned by the prophets, the first span of the heavens to be empurpled with the rising fires of aurora; the blessed soil whose produce was so pure as to make the Angels believe that Eden had been restored to us. But in the midst of the aureola of incomparable peace that surrounds her, let us hail her as the land of victory surpassing the most famous fields of battle; as the sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception, where our humiliated race took up the combat begun before the throne of God by the Angelic hosts; where the serpent's head was crushed, and Michael, now surpassed in glory, gladly handed over to his sweet Queen, at the first moment of her existence, the command of the Lord's armies.
What human lips, unless touched like the prophet's with a burning coal, could tell the admiring wonder of the Angelic Powers, when the Blessed Trinity, passing from the burning Seraphim to the lowest of the nine choirs, bade them turn their fiery glances and contemplate the flower of sanctity blossoming in the bosom of Anne? The Psalmist had said of the glorious City whose foundations were now hidden in her that was once barren: The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains (Ps. lxxxvi. 1); and the heavenly hierarchies crowning the slopes of the eternal hills, beheld in her heights to them unknown and unattainable, summits approaching so near to God, that He was even then preparing His throne in her. Like Moses at the sight of the burning bush on Horeb, they were seized with a holy awe on recognizing the mountain of God in the midst of the desert of this world; and they understood that the affliction of Israel was soon to cease. Although shrouded by the cloud, Mary was already that blessed mountain whose base, i.e., the starting point of her graces, was set far above the summits where the highest created sanctities are perfected in glory and love.
How justly is the mother named Anne, which signifies grace, she in whom for nine months were centered the complacencies of the Most High, the ecstasy of the Angelic Spirits and the hope of all flesh! No doubt it was Mary, the daughter, and not the mother, whose sweetness so powerfully attracted the heavens to our lowly earth. But the perfume first scents the vessel which contains it, and even after it is removed, leaves it impregnated with its fragrance. Moreover, it is customary to prepare the vase itself with the greatest care; it must be all the purer, made of more precious material, and more richly adorned, according as the essence to be placed in it is rarer and more exquisite. Thus Magdalene enclosed her precious spikenard in alabaster. The Holy Spirit, the preparer of heavenly perfumes, would not be less careful than men. Now the task of blessed Anne was not limited, like that of a material vase, to passively containing the treasure of the world. She furnished the body of her who was to give flesh to the Son of God; she nourished her with her milk; she gave to her, who was inundated with floods of divine light, the first practical notions of life. In the education of her illustrious daughter, Anne played the part of a true mother: not only did she guide Mary's first steps, but she co-operated with the Holy Ghost in the education of her soul, and the preparation for her incomparable destiny; until, when the work had reached the highest development to which she could bring it, she, without a moment's hesitation or a thought of self, offered her tenderly loved child to him from whom she had received her.
Sic fingit tabernaculwm Deo, thus she frames a tabernacle for God. Such was the inscription around the figure of St. Anne instructing Mary, which formed the device of the ancient guild of joiners and cabinetmakers; for they, looking upon the making of tabernacles wherein God may dwell in our churches as their most choice work, had taken St. Anne for their patroness and model. Happy were those times, when the simplicity of our fathers penetrated so deeply into the practical understanding of mysteries, which their infatuated sons glory in ignoring. The valiant woman is praised in the Book of Proverbs for her spinning, weaving, sewing, embroidering, and household cares: naturally then, those engaged in these occupations placed themselves under the protection of the spouse of Joachim. More than once, those suffering from the same trial which had inspired Anne's touching prayer beneath the sparrow's nest, experienced the power of her intercession in obtaining for others, as well as for herself, the blessing of the Lord God.
The East anticipated the West in the public cultus of the grandmother of the Messias. Towards the middle of the sixth century, a Church was dedicated to her in Constantinople. The Typicon of St. Sabbas makes a liturgical commemoration of her three times in the year: on the 9th September, together with her spouse St. Joachim, the day after the birthday of their glorious daughter; on the 9th December, whereon the Greeks, a day later than the Latins, keep the feast of our Lady's Immaculate Conception, under a title which more directly expresses St. Anne's share in the mystery; and lastly, the 25th July, not being occupied by the feast of St. James, which was kept on the 80th April, is called the Dormitio or precious death of St. Anne, mother of the most holy Mother of God: the very same expression which the Roman Martyrology adopted later.
Although Rome, with her usual reserve, did not until much later authorize the introduction into the Latin Churches of a liturgical feast of St. Anne, she nevertheless encouraged the piety of the faithful in this direction. So early as the time of Leo III. (795 - 816) and by that illustrious Pontiff's express command, the history of Anne and Joachim was represented on the sacred ornaments of the noblest basilicas in the Eternal City (Lib. pontif. in Leon. III). The Order of Carmel, so devout to St. Anne, powerfully contributed, by its fortunate migration into our countries, to the growing increase of her cultus. Moreover, this development was the natural outcome of the progress of devotion among the people to the Mother of God. The close relation between the two worships is noticed in a concession, whereby in 1381 Urban VI. satisfied the desires of the faithful in England by authorizing for that kingdom a feast of the blessed Anne. The Church of Apt in Provence had been already a century in possession of the feast; a fact due to the honour bestowed on that Church of having received almost together with the faith, the Saint's holy body, in the first age of Christianity.
Since our Lord, reigning in heaven, has willed that his blessed Mother should also be crowned there in her virginal body, the relics of Mary's mother have become doubly dear to the world, first, as in the case of others, on account of the holiness of her whose precious remains they are, and then above all others, on account of their close connection with the mystery of the Incarnation. The Church of Apt was so generous out of its abundance, that it would now be impossible to enumerate the sanctuaries which have obtained, either from this principal source or from elsewhere, more or less notable portions of these precious relics. We cannot omit to mention as one of these privileged places, the great Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls; St. Anne herself, in an apparition to St. Bridget of Sweden (Revelationes S. Birgittae. liv. VI., cap. 104), confirmed the authenticity of the arm which forms one of the most precious jewels in the rich treasury of that Church.
It was not until 1584 that Gregory XIII. ordered the celebration of this feast of 26th July throughout the whole Church, with the rite of a double. Leo XIII. in our own times (1879) raised it, together with that of St. Joachim, to the dignity of a solemnity of second class. But before that, Gregory XV., after having been cured of a serious illness by St. Anne, had ranked her feast among those of precept, with obligation of resting from servile work.
Now that St. Anne was receiving the homage due to her exalted dignity, she made haste to show her recognition of this more solemn tribute of praise. In the years 1623, 1624 and 1625, in the village of Keranna, near Auray, in Brittany, she appeared to Yves Nicolazic, and discovered to him an ancient statue buried in the field of Bocenno, which he tenanted. This discovery brought the people once more to the place, where, a thousand years before, the inhabitants of ancient Armorica had honoured that statue. Innumerable graces obtained on the spot spread its fame far beyond the limits of the province, whose faith, worthy of past ages, had merited the favour of the grandmother of the Messias; and St. Anne d'Auray was soon reckoned among the chief pilgrimages of the Christian world.
More fortunate than the wife of Elcana, who prefigured thee both in her trial and by her name, thou, O Anne, now singest the magnificent gifts of the Lord. Where is now the proud synagogue that despised thee? The descendants of the barren one are now without number; and all we, the brethren of Jesus, children, like Him, of thy daughter Mary, come joyfully, led by our Mother, to offer thee our praises. In the family circle the grandmother's feastday is the most, touching of all, when her grandchildren surround her with reverential love, as we gather around thee today.
St. Anne Grandmother of the baby Jesus
Many, alas! know not these beautiful feasts, where the blessing of the earthly paradise seems to revive in all its freshness; but the mercy of our God has provided a sweet compensation. He, the Most High God, willed to come so nigh to us, as to be one of us in the flesh; to know the relations and mutual dependences which are the law of our nature; the bonds of Adam, with which He had determined to draw us and in which He first bound Himself. For, in raising nature above itself, He did not eliminate it; He made grace take hold of it and lead it to heaven; so that, joined together on earth by their Divine Author, nature and grace were to be united for all eternity. We, then, being brethren by grace of Him Who is ever thy Grandson by nature, are, by this loving disposition of Divine Wisdom, quite at home under thy roof; and today's feast, so dear to the hearts of Jesus and Mary, is our own family feast.
Smile then, dear mother, upon our chants and bless our prayers. Today and always be propitious to the supplications which our land of sorrows sends up to thee. Be gracious to wives and mothers who confide to thee their holy desires and the secret of their sorrows. Keep up, where they still exist, the traditions of the Christian home. Over how many families has the baneful breath of this age passed, blighting all that is serious in life, weakening faith, leaving nothing but languor, weariness, frivolity, if not even worse, in the place of the true and solid joys of our fathers. How truly might the Wise Man say at the present day: "Who shall find a valiant woman?" She alone by her influence could counteract all these evils; but on condition of recognizing wherein her true strength lies: in humble household works done with her own hands; in hidden, self-sacrificing devotedness; in watchings by night; in hourly foresight; working in wool and flax, and with the spindle; all those strong things which win for her the confidence and praise of her husband; authority over all, abundance in the house, blessings from the poor whom she has helped, honour from strangers, reverence from her children; and for herself, in the fear of the Lord, nobility and dignity, beauty and strength, wisdom, sweetness and content, and calm assurance at the latter day (Cf. Prov. xxxi. 10-31).
O blessed Anne, rescue society, which is perishing for want of virtues like thine. The motherly kindnesses thou art ever more frequently bestowing upon us have increased the Church's confidence; deign to respond to the hopes she places in thee. Bless especially thy faithful Brittany; have pity on unhappy France, for which thou hast shown thy predilection, first, by so early confiding to it thy sacred body; later on, by choosing in it the spot whence thou wouldst manifest thyself to the world; and, again, quite recently entrusting to its sons the Church and seminary dedicated to thy honour in Jerusalem. O thou who lovest the Franks, who deignest still to look on fallen Gaul as the kingdom of Mary, continue to show it that love which is its most cherished tradition. Mayest thou become known throughout the whole world. As for us, who have long known thy power and experienced thy goodness, let us ever seek in thee, O mother, our rest, security, strength in every trial; for he who leans on thee has nothing to fear on earth, and he who rests in thy arms is safely carried.