Saturday, February 2, 2013


Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. On this day, Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus, Who was only forty days old, to the Temple to present Him to God. The Law of Moses set aside all firstborn sons as God's “special property.” Parents “redeemed” their sons by a Temple sacrifice of a lamb or, if the family was poor, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons (Navarre Bible Commentary). 

The Law also commanded women who had given birth to undergo a rite of purification. Mary, who conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit, would have been exempt from this requirement, but in humility and obedience, she submitted to the rite anyway. 

We could focus on many different aspects of this Feast: the ideas of redemption and purification; the action of the Holy Spirit; Simeon's prophecy; Mary's sorrow; or the traditions of “Candlemas.” For the remainder of this post, however, I'd like to reflect on someone who is often overlooked on this feast day: the prophetess Anna. 

Simeon had just finished speaking his prophecy when Anna appeared on the scene. We hear that she was the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. Phanuel, whose name means “face of God,” must have been a well-known man in Jerusalem, for he is mentioned here instead of Anna's husband. The tribe of Asher was one of the ten lost tribes of Israel who were carried away from their homeland by the Assyrians about 740 B.C. A few members of these tribes intermingled with the two remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin, preserving their ancient heritage and worship. 

The text calls Anna (whose name means “grace”) a prophetess, in other words, a woman who understands and explains the mysteries of God. She had a special charism, or gift, from God that allowed her a glimpse of Who God is and what He has planned for humanity. She was eager to share these insights with others. 

We also learn that Anna was a widow. She was married for only seven years before her husband died. Widows were among the most vulnerable people in the ancient world. Women were very seldom able to earn their own livelihoods and had to depend upon their husbands, sons, or other male relatives for their support. Anna apparently took a different path. She would have been young enough to remarry when her husband died, for Jewish girls were considered marriageable at about twelve years old, but there is no indication that she did so. Instead, we are told that she remained a widow either until the age of 84 years or for 84 years, which would have made her at least 103 when she met Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in the Temple. 

Anna remained in the Temple, worshiping day and night by fasting and prayer. She gave herself completely to God, adoring Him at all times by the self-sacrifice of fasting and by the intimacy of prayer. 

Anna was ready to meet God in person when Jesus arrived at the Temple in Mary's arms. Did she know He was God? Maybe or maybe not. But she certainly knew that He was the Redeemer, the Messiah, for the moment she saw Him, she began to praise God and to talk to anyone who would listen about this Child. She spread the message especially to those who, like she, were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. She knew God was acting. She knew something amazing was about to happen. She knew this Child was the One Who would bring it about. And she was not afraid to speak out, even though most people probably ignored her or smiled indulgently at this “silly old woman.” 

Anna probably didn't mind. She had her reward for all those hours spent in prayer, in fasting, in worship, and in waiting. She had seen the One Who would bring salvation to her people and to the whole world.

1 comment:

  1. Perplexing in a way in that Anna had a harder religious life than everyone in the Bible unless she did this night and day fasting and never leaving the temple for a season of her life and not all her widowed years. It is not plain from the passage. Otherwise both Christ and Mary had more "breaks" from prayer and fasting than Anna did and both had more of a social life than Anna did.