Saint Anne’s Triduum in Cormac: Part I of III

August 9, 2022

Saint Anne’s Triduum in Cormac: Part I of III

The History of the Devotion to Saint Anne + Homily for Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Silence of the Gospels

After the glorious name of Mary, Mother of God, the greatest name is, Anne, mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus Christ.  Why is that?  Because in heaven, the most perfect angels are those who stand closest to God. The laws of heaven are the laws of earth.

But how can we explain the silence of the Gospels about the lives of Mary, Joseph, Anne and Joachim?  Here are some reasons that may explain this:

Exposing the virtues of Saint Anne would have been difficult for people to understand, let alone the pagans.  This would have given rise to reactions of disbelief, revolt, mockery, scandal or contempt, as Jesus himself endured.  So, in order not to give hold to blasphemy towards his mother or towards his mother’s venerable parents, by leaving them to an existence of harassment and unwelcomed publicity, God drew down a discreet veil on the interior life of this godly family.  This also had the effect of curbing all kinds of superstitions on the part of the pagans towards the rather more angelic than human lives of Mary, Joseph, Anne and Joachim.  Also, the Church of the first centuries, faced with the impending dangers, chose to use prudence and caution regarding the homage she rendered to the Virgin, Joseph, and Mary’s parents.

It can therefore be concluded that, in terms of written tradition, Jesus preferred silence, but, oral tradition has compensated for this deliberate silence.  It will take time, years, for the sanctity of these holy people to be revealed in a more complete manner.

The Apocryphal Writings

According to quotations from the Fathers of the Church, there could be more than 60 apocryphal gospels (from the Greek “apocryphos” meaning “hidden” or “secret”). But probably the same one has been referred to under various names.  In any case, we still have 7 in their entirety, 3 of which are more credible than the others: the “Protevangelium of James”, thus named as it seems to predate the Gospels; “The Gospel of the Pseudo-Matthew”, also called “Book of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Childhood of the Savior”; and “The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary” which substantially repeats these first two.

It should be noted that, from the time of the New Testament not all writings that are called “apocryphal” have been retained by the Church authorities over the centuries.  Some contained theological, moral, historical, and geographical errors, or, showed a lack of knowledge of Jewish culture and tradition.

As for the New Testament, the process of recognition and collection began in the first centuries of the Christian era.  Some books were recognized quite early, others later. It was only in 393 at Hippo and in 397 at Carthage, that Councils led by Augustine ratified the choice made by the churches for nearly two hundred years, by officially listing the books of the New Testament.  But does this mean that the Church’s official non-recognition of the apocryphal writings means that everything they contain is false?  Certainly not, since even some of the Fathers of the Church, as well as Pope Innocent 1st quoted them profusely in their sermons or homilies.

Many of these writings were circulating from the beginning of the early Church. Some are very bizarre, as they abound with miracles or unusual facts and involve errors of all kinds.  But, the three apocryphal writings that I mentioned earlier, are those which have a stronger credibility.  We can see traces of their presence throughout Christian history, especially in the Middle Ages, and more particularly in the Eastern world, such as in frescoes, sculptures, canvases and mosaics to name a few.

Upon entering the Basilica of St. Anne, you only have to look up to see in the main vault, the history of the life of Saint Anne, from birth to death; her meeting and marriage to Joachim; Mary’s birth and consecration in the Temple from the age of 3; her marriage to Joseph, etc.  These stories come mainly from the “Protevangelium of James”, the “Gospel of the Pseudo-Matthew” and “The Gospel of Mary’s Nativity”.

The Protevangelium of James: Episodes of the Life of Saint Anne

Interestingly, in the three most credible apocryphal gospels, there is a remarkable conformity:  thus for Anne’s long infertility;  the promise she makes to consecrate her child to the service of God; the presentation of Mary in the Temple at the age of three; the education she receives there among the Almas or virgins of Israel raised in the holy place; the vow she makes to persevere in virginity; the ceremonies of her marriage with Joseph;  Joseph’s advanced age at the time of their engagement.  This means that, since these different authors were able to agree on all these points, surely this assures us then that not everything in these writings is fiction.

The “Protevangelium of James” is certainly the most reliable writing of the apocryphal gospels, at least from the 1st to the 12th chapter. The rest of the story remains questionable and is a bit bizarre.  But under this pretext, let us not close our minds to the whole content, as history has demonstrated that gold dust has often been collected amidst coarse sand.  So, here is a brief summary of this writing:

Legend has it that Joachim was a very rich man and lived in Jerusalem. He was shepherd of sheep and goats and had many servants.  He feared God in all simplicity and goodness of heart.  From the fruits of his labor, he fed all those who feared the Lord. And he doubled up his gift offerings to God, saying, “May my goods belong to all the people, for the remission of my sins before God, so that He may have mercy on me.”  Of all the goods he owned and offered, he separated them into three parts. The first part he distributed to orphans, widows, travelers and the poor.  The second part he gave to the ministers of the Lord.   And the third and last part he kept for members of his household and for himself.

When he was 20, he took Anne, a descendant of the tribe of Judah, who was from the royal lineage of David.  But after 20 years of marriage, they were still childless. Some judged them mercilessly because of their state of infertility.  Now, it happened that on the feast day of “The Great Day of the Lord,” Joachim went to the Temple with his gifts in order to offer them to the Lord.  At the moment the incense was being offered, a priest named Ruben forbids him to offer and present his gifts, as he said, God had cursed him, since he was without offspring.

This public affront humiliates and grieves Joachim profoundly, who leaves in tears. He then consults the registers of the twelve tribes of Israel to see if at least one righteous person would have been deprived of children.  But all had had a posterity, even Abraham and Sarah, despite their advanced age.  Joachim, discouraged, decides to leave the house, without even mentioning a word to his wife Anne.  He leaves with his flocks and servants and takes refuge in the desert, about a month’s walk from his house, where he undertakes a 40-day fast, thinking, “I will take neither food nor drink until the Lord my God has cast His gaze upon me, but my prayer will be my nourishment and beverage.”

For 5 months, no one, not even his wife Anne, heard from him. Anne’s mourning was twofold: she wept for her infertility and, for the loss of her husband, whom she believed dead.  She raised her lament to God: “Lord Almighty God of Israel, who did not give me children, why did you also take my husband?”

Her servant Judith scorns her further saying that God was probably right to have closed her womb so that she would not give children to Israel. Anne goes into her garden alone to cry and asks the Lord to bless her as He blessed Sarah, Isaac’s mother.  In her prayer, she reminds God of the promise she made on the day of her marriage to Joachim, the vow to consecrate to the Temple the son or daughter who would come out of her womb, and this, from an early age.

An angel appears to her at that moment and announces that she will conceive and give birth.  Anne exults with joy and replies that she will offer this child in the temple at the age of 3, to be consecrated to God and to serve Him every day of her or his life. She doesn’t know yet it’s going to be a girl.   But she still worries about the return of her husband, of whom she has received no news.  Her servant scorns her a second time, but soon after, two angels appear to Anne saying, “Here, your husband Joachim will be back soon.”

At the same moment, Joachim’s guardian angel presents himself to him in the form of a young man, and asks him to return immediately to his wife, for she will give birth to a daughter who will be blessed by all generations, such that no other creature before has ever been blessed by God. The Angel said to him, “Soon Anne will be a mother, and she herself will be blessed, and she will be the mother of the eternal blessing.” And the angel adds, “When God suspends the laws of the human generation, it is to better manifest them afterwards, and to better show in this new being, who is being formed, an effect of his divine munificence.” He cites Sarah’s example, Rachel who gave birth after a long infertility, Samson’s parents; etc.

Joachim bows down and invites the young man to eat with him in his tent.  The latter refuses, saying, “Our own food is invisible, and our beverage cannot be seen by mortal eyes.  The angel invites him instead to offer a lamb in holocaust, telling him that it is God’s will.  During the offering, the angel ascends with the smoke to Heaven.  Joachim shares his vision with his servants, but he is still hesitant to return to his wife.  While he sleeps, the angel comes to Joachim in a dream.  He shows himself as his guardian angel and speaks to him firmly urging him to return to Anne.  Speaking of Joachim’s future posterity, the angel adds: “Never since the beginning of the world has there been any prophets or saints equal to her nor will there ever be.”   Joachim then decides to go back home and returns to his wife.

(To be continued: Part II of III next week)

+ Guy Desrochers, C.Ss.R.
Bishop of Pembroke

Read: Statement of the Executive Committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

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