Nothing is known from Scripture about the parents of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Apparently, in the mid-Second Century, an apocryphal gospel, known as the Book of James appeared among communities of Egyptian Christians. Biblical scholars discard it as irrelevant. However, that manuscript gives the names of Anne and Joachim as the parents of Mary. The story of Mary’s birth recalls the Conception of the prophet Samuel recorded in 1 Samuel I: 9-20. Perhaps for that reason, the name Anne appears since Samuel’s mother’s name was Hannah (Anne). From what is known of Jewish life in the days of Jesus, it is conjectured that Mary was of a priestly family (Zachary and Elizabeth). This would include the duties of Levite wives during religious services in the Temple, while priests were sequestered in and around The Sacristies of the Holy of Holies. Their spouses celebrated the same with song, dance and color outside the Temple precinct.
From the earliest days, devotion to Saint Anne was embodied in a Second Century Church at Jerusalem. Today that shrine is tended by the White Fathers (Missionaries of Africa). Returning Crusaders brought devotion to Saint Anne back to Continental Europe where it flourished, primarily in France. From France, it spread to England and to Colonial Canada where the Basilica of Sainte Anne de Beaupre in Quebec is the most popular.
Devotion to Saint Joachim did not flourish until the Seventh Century. However, days of devotion honored him in the Eastern Church. A century before, the Emperor Justinian built a large basilica in honor of Saint Anne in Constantinople. There, images of Joachim were portrayed in murals and mosaic.
Strangely Martin Luther despised the cult of Saint Anne and Saint Joachim. However, Renaissance Popes authorized a stable feast for Joachim in the Latin Church. Only in 1913, did Pope Saint Pius X give him a permanent feast in the Latin Church. That was August 16th, the day after the Assumption of Mary. However, in 1969 Pope Paul VI joined it to the feast of Saint Anne on July 26th.
Passionists have celebrated this feast with special zeal. Because Saint Anne was patron of numerous guilds and crafts, her devotional exercises were largely celebrated by women in the Middle Ages. Since she was the patroness of cottage industries, she was deemed to be a preeminent figure for the vocation of homemaker. However, all of that changed in the Fourteenth Century when certain French Bishops named her the patron of woodsmen, since she “was the root of the tree whose flower was Our Lady and whose fruit was Jesus.” The Passionists, as they moved out of Italy into France under Blessed Dominic Barberi, acquired a special devotion to her since in France she was patron of miners and heavy industrial workers. Once he got to England, Dominic founded a parish and Monastery in Sutton, Lancashire, England which he named after her in the 1849. Dominic died before the construction of the institution. It was the last of his foundations and he was pleased, since Sutton is a heavily industrial region not far from Liverpool. The bodies of Blessed Dominic, the Venerable Right Honorable Ignatius Spencer, C.P. and Mother Mary Joseph Prout, founder of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion, rest there today.
Saint Anne has an American Passionist history too. Early Passionists in Pittsburgh accepted the responsibility of tending coal miners and their families in Castle Shannon, PA, just outside of Pittsburgh. In 1889, Father Bernardine Heil, C.P. served as the first pastor of Saint Anne’s Mission. He traveled daily by rail from the Slopes of Pittsburgh’s South Side, as the foundation did not yet have a permanent residence. He was assisted (later succeeded) by Father Anselm Clemmens, C.P. In 1896, a church was constructed and the parish was founded and turned to the supervision of the diocese. Recently a small mahogany altar was discovered in the attic of a former parishioner. It was the first one used for the celebration of Mass there. That parish flourishes to this day. In the meantime, Passionists were making plans to establish a large parish in Scranton, PA and to organize a Monastery alongside the Church. Finally in 1900, the renowned Father Fidelis Kent Stone, C.P. became the first rector. In 1926, a very saintly Passionist, Father John Joseph Endler inaugurated a full nine-day outdoor novena before the feast of Saint Anne. The unction of his preaching and the particular care he displayed for the miners of the Lehigh Valley have drawn thousands to this very day. The parish church is now a national basilica. Each year two outstanding priests are selected for preaching the novena. Rarely is the offer made twice. Among the clergy of Saint Paul of the Cross Province, it is considered the highest honor to fulfill this task.
For 1,500 years icons have depicted Joachim and Anne in Churches of both East and West. They appear to be either teaching Mary to read or to be comforting her. Certainly, they are characters in the drama of the Incarnation and the Redemption. If we believe in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, then we believe in them. In this day and age and for a thousand years before that, Holy Anne has ironically been identified with the hardest types of labor. In fact, twin Churches were constructed under the title of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne in Hazelwood. This was the heart of the industrial complex in Pittsburgh. Surely it is not unreasonable to go to Saint Anne to ask her to intercede for us before her divine Grandson. When taken together, the words “instruction” and “comfort” spell wisdom. WISDOM FLOWS FROM LOVE. They give us a metaphorical truth: “…It is only in this infinite respect, shone in this great mystery, that one can recognize at once the greatness of each and every soul and Who it is alone that can fill it to the full, God whom obscurely the soul has felt everywhere without being yet able to touch him.” This is the vocation of Joachim and Anne. On this day we turn to them in hope. Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, pray for us.
Prayer: God of our fathers, You gave Saints Joachim and Anne the privilege of being the parents of Mary. May their prayers help us to attain the salvation You have promised to your people. Grant this we pray through Christ, Our Lord. Amen. (Novena Prayer)
Father Jerome Vereb, C.P.