August 16, 2022
Saint Anne’s Triduum in Cormac: Part II of III
The History of the Devotion to Saint Anne + Homily for Sunday, July 31, 2022
The Meeting of Anne and Joachim at the Golden Gate of the Temple of Jerusalem
Before returning to his wife in Jerusalem, Joachim ordered his servants to prepare 12 white sheep to be offered in the Lord’s Temple, 12 undefiled lambs that will be offered for the priests and elders, and 100 goats that will be offered for the people. And, there he is, on his way back home, which will last almost one month.
On the day of his arrival, an angel appears to Anne and says, “Go to the Golden Gate of the Temple to greet your husband, who this very day will come to you.” With her maids, Anne rushes and waits feverishly for the return of her husband. At the end of the day, she sees herds in the distance. Indeed, it really is her husband who is coming back after a long absence! As she meets him, she exclaims, “Now I know that God has blessed me greatly; I was a widow, and no longer am; I was sterile, and now I will have a life in my womb!” Anne and Joachim rest at home after being separated for more than 5 months. Rumours start to spread throughout the land of Israel. After 9 months, Anne has a beautiful daughter whom she names “Myriam”, i.e. Mary. Once the days of purification are over, Anne nurses her child.
At six months old, Mary takes her first steps and throws herself into her mother’s arms and Anne says, “Praise be the Lord my God! You will not walk on the earth until I have offered you in the Temple of the Lord.” All were charmed by the graces of this child, to the point that some wanted to abduct her. At the age of one, Joachim organizes a great feast: he invites the princes of the priests, the scribes and elders of the sanctuary and all the people of Israel. He presents his daughter to the priests so they might bless her. They proclaim, “God of our fathers, bless this child and make her name great, eternal among all generations.” Anne then sings a beautiful canticle in which she exalts the Lord who visited her.
When Mary reaches her second year, Joachim suggests to Anne that Mary be consecrated now in the Temple, but Anne recommends that she be consecrated later, at the age of three. In this way she would not miss her parents before being weaned. Joachim agrees. At the age of three, once the child is weaned, Joachim calls the holiest young virgins in Israel to walk ahead of Mary with lit candles, up to the Temple. It is that Joachim feared his daughter would turn around and look back and, in this way, lose her focus for the House of God. Before going in the Temple, Joachim and Anne change from their travel clothes into much beautiful and richer ones.
When Mary arrives at the Temple gate, “she climbs up the fifteen degrees, without the help of no one and at a step so fast, that she had no time to look back, or reclaim her parents, as is the way with small children.” Anne and Joachim, as well as the priests of the Temple and the whole gallery, are stunned seeing this. The pontiffs are seized with admiration. Mary is placed on the third degree of the altar, and the Lord gives the child an anointing of joy. Anne is quite moved and sings a hymn inspired by the Holy Spirit. Once the sacrifice is completed Anne and Joachim return home.
The Marriage of Mary and Joseph
Here is how this section of the Gospel of James ends: “Now, Mary was raised like a dove in the Temple of the Lord, and she received her food from the hand of an angel. When she was twelve years old, the priests consulted each other and said: “Here is Mary, in the temple of the Lord. What will we do with her (…)?” And they said to the high priest, “You who guard the altar of the Lord, go in and pray about this child. What the Lord will tell you, we will do. ” And the priest (…) entered the Holy of Holies and began to pray.
And suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared, saying, “Zacharias, Zacharias, go out and summon the widowers of the people. Let them each bring a stick, and to the one the Lord shows a sign, he will take Mary as his wife.”Heralds poured out all over the land of Judea and the Lord’s trumpet sounded, and here they came all rushing. Joseph (…) also went to join the troop. They all went to the priest’s house together with their stick. (…) Now, Joseph received his last. Suddenly a dove flew off his stick and landed on his head. Then the priest exclaimed: “Joseph, Joseph, you are the chosen one: it is you, who will take care of the virgin of the Lord.”
Let us now compare the version narrated by the Venerable Mary of Agreda, a mystic born in 1602:
“At the age of thirteen and a half (…) , she had taken a vow of perpetual virginity in the presence of God and the holy angels, and she had nothing more at heart than to always keep this beautiful lily of purity. But the Lord commanded her to take the state of marriage, without revealing that she was chosen to be the Mother of God. At this unexpected order she remained very distressed, but she suspended her judgment, (…) and resigned herself to the divine will. God told Simeon in a dream to search for a husband for the daughter of Joachim (…) The saintly man obeys the divine orders. (.. . )
When the fixed day arrived, all the young men of David’s family gathered and Joseph, native of Nazareth(…) found himself with them. He was thirty-three years of age, of handsome person and pleasing countenance, but also of incomparable modesty and grace. From his twelve year he had made and kept the vow of chastity. He was related to the Virgin Mary in the third degree. The priests prayed in order to settle with divine assistance what had to be done. The Lord inspired Simeon to ask each suitor to take a dry stick and ask God to manifest his divine will. When they were all in prayer, the staff which Joseph held was seen to blossom and at the same time a dove of purest white and resplendent with admirable light, was seen to descend and rest upon the head of the saint. (…) On the declaration of heaven, the priests gave the Most Holy Virgin to St. Joseph who had been selected by God to be her spouse. (…) She then made known to her husband the vow of perpetual chastity that she had made, begging him to help her to fulfill it. Saint Joseph revealed he also had taken a vow at the age of twelve. The hearts of the two chaste spouses were filled with consolation when they saw the Lord’s work in conformity of their sentiments; they renewed their vows, promised to be faithful to them and to help each other towards perfection. (…) The holy marriage was celebrated on September 8. Mary having 14 years accomplished and Saint Joseph 33.”
The History of Devotion to Saint Anne
Let’s talk a little bit about the relics of Saint Anne. History attests that the Christians of the early Church venerated with great respect the relics of the holy martyrs, and this cult spread to the relics of all those close to Jesus, Saint Anne in particular. After the death of Saint Anne, probably because of the relentless persecution against the Christians, her remains were transported to the church of Apt in France. Afterwards there will also be Muslim wars and persecutions in that region, and Blessed Bishop Auspice, wanting to protect the body of Saint Anne from desecration, carefully placed it in an underground crypt until King Charles arrived in Apt in July 801.
The discovery of the body of Saint Anne in the underground crypt is worth recounting. On July 26, 801, King Charlemagne, a devout man, visits the great shrines of Europe. He arrives in Apt and has a Mass of thanksgiving celebrated there in order to restore in these places the Catholic cult that the Muslims had appropriated. Victorious over the Saracens and Lombards, the king brought peace to Provence. He is accompanied by his barons and their children. One of them, the son of Baron de Caseneuve, blind, deaf and dumb, goes into a trance and makes it clear to those surrounding him that it is necessary to dig where he stands. The workers start to dig and a deep crypt is discovered, and suddenly recovering the use of his senses, the young man exclaims: “In this very crypt is the body of Saint Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God…” The place is cleared, and a cypress reliquary is brought up wrapped in a veil that reads: “Hic est corpus beate Annae, matris virginis Mariae.” The reliquary is opened and, as is the case for the saints and the blessed, a sweet perfume emerges.
Of these relics, Charlemagne takes a portion of the lower jaw for his town of Aix-la-Chapelle. Other fragments will be distributed later to other cities or countries, often through the intercession of certain notable persons who requested them. Among these was Anne of Austria, wife of Louis XIII, on November 10, 1625. The queen will then divide the relics in three parts and bequeath one to the Carmes of Auray, a second to the Visitation of Paris and the last to the Premontres religious of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. This enumeration summarizes well the dispersal of the relics of Saint Anne and proves that, long before the Counter-Reformation, the cult of Saint Anne had spread throughout Europe.
In 550, a church was built in Constantinople in honour of Saint Anne. July 26 marks without doubt the anniversary of the dedication of this basilica. The Franciscans put it on their Calendar on July 26, 1263. Her cult has been steadily rising since the 14th century as evidence by the increasing number of works of art it inspires (which can be seen for example in the multitude of statues showing Anne, Mary and the Child Jesus, called “marian trinities”, parallel to the Holy Trinity). But the Church forbids the representation of the marian trinities to avoid confusion with the Trinity in the theological sense. Her popularity is such that the Confraternities of Saint Anne multiply rapidly at that time.
The theological debates on the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the 14th century have for consequence to associate the cult of Saint Anne more narrowly to the cult of the Blessed Virgin.
In 1481, Pope Sixtus IV a Franciscan Immaculist adds the solemn feast of St. Anne to the Calendar of the Roman Church on July 26. In 1494, the treatise De Laudibus Sanctissimae Matris Annae of Johannes Trithemius is published, which plays a large role in the propagation of her cult.
If, in the reformed world, her cult declines rapidly, in the Catholic world however, for those who remained faithful to the Church, her cult continues to advance and rises, after almost succumbing to the many expunctions that accompanied the Council of Trent. Gregory XIII, under pressure from the Counter-Reformation which promotes the cult of the saints, restores her official feast day to July 26 (bull of May1, 1584) and, Gregory XV, in his apostolic brief, Honor Laudis of April 23, 1622, makes it a feast of obligation and a public holiday. It is celebrated under the double major rite until Leo XIII, who downgrades it to the rank of a simple parish feast of the second-degree in 1879. July 26 is the feast (IIIrd class) of “Saint Anne mother of The Blessed Virgin Mary” in the Roman General Calendar of 1960, and it becomes in the reform of the Roman General Calendar decreed by Paul VI in 1969, the “Memory of Saints Joachim and Anne”.
This ambivalence of the cult of Saint Anne through history can be explained on the one hand by rivalries between clergies (these are her monastic promoters: Benedictines, Carthusians, Franciscans, who wrote the legends about her, organized her cult and, above all, profited from it at the expense of the resources of the parish clergy). On the other hand it can be explained by the many legends about the Saint which strengthened the faith of the triumphant people, opposing the unbelief of the learned and the reluctance of the religious authorities to allow a cult that came from the popular folklore.
(To be continued: Part III of III next week)
+ Guy Desrochers, C.Ss.R.
Bishop of Pembroke