Saint Anne, Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary
from the Liturgical Year, 1909
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)!”
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
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.