The Mother of the Mother of God
Meditation on the Treasure that is Saint Anne
There is much to contemplate on the intricate and intimate role good Saint Anne played in bringing forth the Immaculate Conception. In cooperation with God and her holy husband Saint Joachim, she nourished the only person ever conceived without sin for a purpose she did not know except for her love of God and the child she carried. Staying true to her mission she dedicated and raised the young child Mary to prepare her for the greatest story ever told: the Redemption of mankind.
"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 dawn; 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 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."
Dom Prosper Gueranger
Saint Anne, the mother of the Mother of Jesus, is one of many proofs of the good that results from conforming to the marriage law i.e. Saint Anne's womb becoming the sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. I will start this meditative narrative with a few paragraphs from Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii and continue with an account of Saint Anne by Abbe Dom Prosper Gueranger from The Liturgical Year with appropriate Scripture interspersed:
54. But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.
55. Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death. As St. Augustine notes, "Intercourse even with one's legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it."[St. August., De coniug. adult., lib. II, n. 12, Gen, XXXVIII, 8-10]
56. Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.
57. We admonish, therefore, priests who hear confessions and others who have the care of souls, in virtue of Our supreme authority and in Our solicitude for the salvation of souls, not to allow the faithful entrusted to them to err regarding this most grave law of God; much more, that they keep themselves immune from such false opinions, in no way conniving in them. If any confessor or pastor of souls, which may God forbid, lead the faithful entrusted to him into these errors or should at least confirm them by approval or by guilty silence, let him be mindful of the fact that he must render a strict account to God, the Supreme Judge, for the betrayal of his sacred trust, and let him take to himself the words of Christ: "They are blind and leaders of the blind: and if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit. [Matth., XV, 14] POPE PIUS XI, CASTI CONNUBII, 12/31/1930 [emphasis mine]
"And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28)
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.
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw His glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (St. John 1:14).
Before being favoured with the greatest blessing ever bestowed on an earthly union, the two holy grandparents 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.
"And Rachel seeing herself without children, envied her sister, and said to her husband: Give me children, otherwise I shall die. And Jacob being angry with her, answered: Am I as God, who hath deprived thee of the fruit of thy womb?" (Genesis 30: 1-2)
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 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 in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus." (St. Luke 1: 26-27, 30-31)
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!"' (Protevengelium JACOBI)
The feast of St. Joachim, which the Church celebrates on the day following 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 piscine, 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 Sepphoris, 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 to-day 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.
"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church" (Ephesians 5: 31-32).
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 dawn; 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 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 her that was once barren: The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains, (Ps. lxxxvi. x.) 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 Magdalen 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 containing passively 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.
"And all these blessings shall come upon thee and overtake thee: yet so if thou hear his precepts. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the droves of thy herds, and the folds of thy sheep" (Deuteronomy 28:2-4).
Sic fingit tabernaculum 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 cabinet-makers; 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 September 9, together with her spouse St. Joachim, the day after the birthday of their glorious daughter; on December 9, 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, July 25, not being occupied by the feast of St. James, which was kept on April 30, 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. Pontiff. 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 cults is noticed in a concession, whereby in 381 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.
"Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness, to dishonour their own bodies among themselves. For this cause God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature" (Romans 1: 24, 26).
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, lib. 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 of July 26 throughout the whole Church, with the rite of a double. Leo XIII in recent times (1879) raised it, together with that of St. Joachim, to the dignity of a solemnity of the 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 the 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 Kerouanne, 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.
"Marriage honourable in all, and the bed undefiled. For fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13: 4).
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? Thee 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 feast day is the most touching of all, when her grandchildren surround her with reverential love, as we gather around thee to-day. 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 dependencies which are the law of our nature; the cords 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 to-day'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. To-day 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 words 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)
"Juda, therefore said to Onan his son: Go in to thy brother's wife and marry her, that thou mayst raise seed to thy brother. He knowing that the children should not be his, when he went in to his brother's wife, spilled his seed upon the ground, lest children should be born in his brother's name. And therefore the Lord slew him, because he did a detestable thing" (Genesis 38: 8-10). [Emphasis mine]
In following the counsel of Christ in St. Matthew 6: 25-34 and St. Luke 12: 31, let us not thwart the will of the Lord but rather let us seek the first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all else will be given to us.
"Catholics who remain faithful to Tradition, even if they are reduced to but a handful, they are THE TRUE CHURCH"
Saint Athanasius, "Apostle of Tradition" AD 373