The name of Anne, which in Hebrew signifies “gracious,” shall always be venerated amongst Christians, for it is the name of the mother of Mary. How great was Anne’s glory in having given birth to her who was the mother of God! “How,” exclaims Saint John Damascene, “shall we worthily praise her from whom we have received the admirable and precious fruit that has given Jesus to us ?”
Saint Anne lived at Nazareth, a town of Lower Galilee, a short distance from Mount Carmel. According to the opinion of Saint Augustine, she was of the priestly tribe. She married a just man, named Joachim, of the tribe of Juda, and of the race of David by Nathan.
Those spouses walked before God in the ways of the most perfect justice, spending their days in prayer, labor, and almsgiving; they awaited, with all the ardent faith of ancient days’, the Messiah that had been announced by the prophets, the Messiah so long promised to Israel; and according to the predictions, the time in which he should appear was not far off.
Anne, having arrived at an advanced age without children, could not, like the other women of Israel, cherish a hope that the Messiah would spring from her blood; but at the moment when this great blessing seemed to escape her, the all-powerful Wisdom ordained quite the contrary. The laws of nature are reversed before the Lord’s designs: Anne, sterile for twenty years, conceives miraculously, and gives birth to her who was to bring forth the Son of God, the desired of nations, the divine Redeemer of the human race.
Thenceforth Anne could not but call herself blessed; and, in fact, was she not so? she who gave birth to her who was supereminently blessed amongst women! Ponder on the beautiful canticle of thanksgiving which she pronounced – “I will sing the praise of my God,” cries the blessed mother in the transports of her joy; “I will sing the praise of my God, because He has visited me in His love, and has not left my name to opprobrium.”
Twenty-four days after the birth of her child, Anne repaired to the Temple to obey a precept of the law; and, like Anne, wife of Elcana, consecrating Samuel to God, the spouse of Joachim devoted her dear Mary to the service of the Temple – Mary, that sweet flower wherewith the Lord had perfumed her old age. How much must this sacrifice have cost this tender mother! but in her gratitude she was only too happy to present to the Lord that which in His love He had bestowed on her. Three years afterwards, and when Mary’s reason was shining forth brilliantly, even at that early period, Anne returned to Jerusalem to fulfil her vow. Mary being solemnly consecrated to the Lord, was left in the Temple of Jerusalem, and the pious mother went back to her home, but not without shedding tears, for upon Mary, ever since God had given her, were concentrated all the thoughts and aspirations of the pious mother.
A pious writer thus represents Saint Anne, going from time to time to Jerusalem to visit her daughter – “With what joy did this pious mother put on her travelling veil to go to the holy city!”
“Whether Joachim, on his death-bed, had entrusted the Virgin to the special protection of the priesthood, or whether the magistrates, on whom devolved the duty of providing for orphans, had themselves selected guardians from the illustrious family of Aaron, to whom she was allied on the maternal side, or that the guardianship of children, devoted to the service of the Temple, belonged by right to the Levites, one thing is, however, certain, that after the death of the pious authors of her existence, Mary had guardians from among the sacerdotal race. If we be allowed to hazard an opinion, we should say that it is very probable that the duties of this guardianship were particularly entrusted to the pious spouse of Elizabeth, as his high reputation of virtue, together with her claim of a near relative, would point him out as peculiarly fitted for that office. The anxiety and desire which the Blessed Virgin manifested, two or three years later travelling all Judea, to present her congratulations to the mother of Saint John the Baptist, and her prolonged stay in the highlands of Hebron, would, indeed, point out that closer ties than those of mere relationship existed between them. According to the modes of observance strictly adopted among the Hebrews, the roof under which Mary dwelt, during a visit so prolonged, must be as sacred as the paternal roof itself. Whoever the priests were on whom devolved the guardianship of the blessed daughter of Saint Anne, they strictly acquitted themselves of the obligations imposed on them; and when the Virgin had attained her fifteenth year, they thought to unite her in marriage to a spouse worthy of her. This project filled Mary with no little anxiety. Her lofty, pure, and contemplative soul had divined the Gospel, and virginity appeared to her to be the most honorable state which a woman could embrace. A very ancient author, cited by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, relates that she refused for a long time, but with a great deal of modesty, complying with the intentions of her guardians, and that she supplicated in humble tones her family to consent to the life which she was leading in the Temple – a life innocent, retired, and exempt from every tie, except the ties of the Lord. Her request caused no little surprise among those who had the disposal of her person. That which she implored as a favor was nothing less than sterility, that is, opprobrium, a state solemnly accursed by the law of Moses; a state of celibacy she made choice of, that is, a total extinction of the name of her father, a thought little less than impious among the Jews, who considered it a dire calamity if their name should not be perpetuated in Israel. The vow of virginity, by which she bound herself to God, could not be urged by her as a plea, for such could be annulled by the mere will of her family. Woman at any epoch of her life was always considered a minor before the establishment of that immortal code which has enfranchised and placed the woman and the slave on terms of equality with him.”
The young virgin had passed about nine years in the Temple, when Joachim, the patriarch of pure and simple life, slept his last sleep to go and repose for ever in Abraham’s bosom.
Saint Anne followed her spouse soon afterwards to the tomb. Some pious authors have thought that at his last hour, a revelation from on high allowed the holy mother of Mary to behold the glorious destinies to which Heaven called her daughter. A celestial joy illuminated her countenance as she gazed on this glory; and it was in this state of blessedness that she bowed her head and breathed her latest sigh.