|Devotion to Our Lady||
People love to pull-out their family album and show photographs of near and distant relatives. It is a satisfying action that reminds one of one's roots and gives a kind of pride and security into the bargain. In the following extracts, taken from The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, we try to paint a picture of the immediate genealogy of Our Lady, so that we have more of an idea of her roots and ancestors. How few people there are who know this, or, sadly, how few people there are who sincerely want to look at Our Lady's 'family album'!
We do appreciate that someone else's family album may not be as interesting as our own family album, but politeness and kindness oblige us to sit through the presentation, especially in the case of persons whom we profess to love —especially if that person is Our Lady!
To help you better visualize the genealogy, we have produced a chart to help you along the way. After the chart, we have the account given to us by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich.
The Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich recounts: "I had a detailed vision of the ancestors of St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin. They lived at Mara in the region of Mount Horeb, and were connected spiritually with a kind of very devout Israelites. These devout Israelites who were connected with the ancestors of St. Anne were called Essenes or Essaees. They have, however, changed their name three times, for they were first called Eskarenes, then Chasidaees, and finally Essenes ... The way of life of these devout people is an inheritance from the time of Moses and Aaron and in particular from the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant ... They lived mostly on the slopes of Mount Horeb and Mount Carmel, the home of Elias.
"In the lifetime of St. Anne's grandparents, the Essenes had a spiritual head who lived on Mount Horeb. He was an aged prophet called Archos or Arkas. Their organization was very like that of a religious order. All who wished to enter it had to undergo a year's tests, and the length of time for which they were accepted was decided by prophetic inspirations from above. The real members of the Order, who lived in a community, did not marry but lived in chastity; but there were others (who had formerly been in the Order or were attached to it) who married and carried out in their families, and with their children and household, something similar in many ways to the traditional discipline of the real Essenes. Their relationship with these was like that between the lay members of a Catholic Third Order, or Tertiaries, and the professed priests of the Order. In all important matters, especially as to the marriages of their relations, these married Essenes always sought instruction and counsel from the aged prophet on Mount Horeb. St. Anne's grandparents belonged to this kind of married Essenes.
"The real Essenes were specially concerned with prophetic matters, and their head on Mount Horeb was often vouchsafed divine revelations in the cave of Elias respecting the coming of the Messias. He had knowledge of the family from which the mother of the Messias was to come, and at the time that he gave prophetic advice to the grandparents of St. Anne in matters of marriage, he saw that the day of the Lord was approaching. He did not, however, know how long the birth of the Saviour's mother might still be prevented or delayed by sin, and so he was always preaching penance, mortification, prayer, and inner sacrifice for this intention—pious exercises of which all Essenes had ever given the example.
"Until Isaias assembled these people together and gave them a more regular organization, they were scattered about the land of Israel, leading lives of piety and intent on mortification. They wore their clothes without mending them till they fell off their bodies. They fought particularly against sexual immorality, and often by mutual consent lived in continence for long periods, living in huts far removed from their wives.
"When they lived together as husband and wife, it was only with the intention of producing a holy offspring which might bring nearer the coming of the Saviour. I saw them eating apart from their wives; the wife came to take her meal after the husband had left the table. There were ancestors of St. Anne and of other holy people among these early Essenes.
"Jeremias too was connected with them, and the men called ' Sons of the Prophet' came from them. They often lived in the desert and round Mount Horeb and Carmel, and later I saw many of them in Egypt. I also saw that for a time they were driven away from Mount Horeb by war and were reassembled by new leaders. The Maccabees also belonged to them. They had a great devotion to Moses, and possessed a sacred piece of his clothing given by him to Aaron, from whom it had come down to them. This was their most precious relic, and I had a vision of some fifteen of them being killed in defending it. Their prophet leaders had knowledge of the secret mysteries of the Ark of the Covenant.
"The real Essenes who lived in chastity were indescribably pure and devout. They adopted children and brought them up to lead a very holy life. To be accepted as a member of the regular Order, a boy had to have reached the age of fourteen. Those who had been already tested had to undergo a year's novitiate, others two years. They did not carry on any form of trade, but exchanged the produce of their agriculture for whatever else they needed. If one of them had committed a grave sin, he was expelled from among them and excommunicated by their head.
"I saw them go three times a year to the Temple in Jerusalem. They had also priests among them whose special duty was the care of the sacred vestments; they cleaned them, contributed money for them, and also made new ones. I saw them engaged in cattle-breeding and agriculture, but specially in gardening. Mount Horeb was full of gardens and fruit-trees in the spaces between their huts. I saw many of them weaving and plaiting, and also embroidering priests' vestments. I did not see them producing silk; that came in bundles to be sold to them, and they exchanged other produce for it. In Jerusalem they had a quarter of their own to live in and a separate place in the Temple as well. The other Jews rather disliked them because of their austerity. I saw that before they journeyed to the Temple they made a very rigorous preparation by prayer, fasting, and penance.
"Archos or Arkas, the old prophet on Mount Horeb, ruled over the Essenes for ninety years. I saw how St. Anne's grandmother questioned him about her own marriage. I saw Anna's grandmother seeking counsel from the prophet Archos. Anna's grandmother came from Mara in the desert, where her family, which belonged to the married Essenes, owned property. Her name sounded to me like Moruni or Emorun. It was told me that this means something like ' good mother' or 'noble mother'. When the time came for her to be married, she had several suitors, and I saw her go to the prophet Archos on Horeb for him to decide whom she was to accept.
"Archos, after entering the cave of Elias, shut the door and knelt down in prayer. He looked up to the opening in the vaulting and threw himself face downwards on the ground. I then saw the prophetic knowledge that was given to him. He saw that from under the heart of Emorun, who was seeking his counsel, there grew as it were a rose-tree with three branches, with a rose on each of them. The rose on the second branch was marked with a letter, I think an M. He saw still more. An angel wrote letters on the wall; I saw Archos rise up as if awaking and read these letters. I forget the details. He then went down from the cave, and announced to the maiden who was awaiting his answer that she was to marry and that her sixth suitor was to be her husband. She would bear a child, marked with a sign, who was chosen out as a vessel of election in preparation for the coming of the Saviour.
"Hereupon Emorun married her sixth suitor, an Essene called Stolanus; he did not come from Mara, and as a result of his marriage and of his wife's possessions he was given another name, which I can no longer remember distinctly; it was pronounced in different ways and sounded like Garesha or Sarzirius. Stolanus and Emorun had three daughters, called, I remember, Ismeria and Emerentia, and a younger one whose name, I think, was Enue. They did not remain long at Mara, but moved later to Ephron. I saw that their daughters Ismeria and Emerentia both married in accordance with the prophetic counsels of the prophet on Horeb. (I can never understand why I have so often heard that Emerentia was the mother of Anna, for I always saw that it was Ismeria). I will tell in God's name what I still have in my mind about these daughters of Stolanus and Emorun.
"Emerentia married one Aphras or Ophras, a Levite. Of this marriage was born Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. A second daughter was named Enue like her mother's sister. At the time of Mary's birth she was already a widow. There was a third daughter, Rhode, one of whose daughters was Mara, whom I saw present at the death of the Blessed Virgin.
"Ismeria married Eliud. They lived after the manner of the married Essenes in the region of Nazareth. They had inherited from their parents the tradition of discipline and continence in married life. Anna was one of their children. The first-born of Ismeria and Eliud was a daughter called Sobe. Because this child did not bear the sign of the promise, they were much distressed and again went to the prophet on Mount Horeb to seek counsel. Archos exhorted them to betake themselves to prayer and sacrifice, and promised them consolation. After Sobe's birth, Ismeria remained barren for some eighteen years. When she again became pregnant by God's blessing, I saw that Ismeria was given a revelation at night. She saw an angel beside her bed writing a letter on the wall. It seems to me that it was again that letter 'M'. Ismeria told her husband of it; he also had seen it in his sleep, but now, while awake, they both saw the sign on the wall. After three months Ismeria gave birth to Anna, who came into the world with that sign upon her body.
"In her fifth year Anna was, like Our Lady, taken to the school in the Temple, where she remained twelve years. She was brought home again in her seventeenth year, to find two children there—her little sister Maraha, who had been born while she was away, and a little son of her elder sister Sobe called Eliud. A year after this Ismeria fell mortally ill. As she lay dying she spoke to all her relations and presented Anna to them as the future mistress of the house. Then she spoke once more with Anna alone, telling her that she was a chosen vessel of grace, that she must marry, and must seek counsel from the prophet on Mount Horeb. Then she died.
"Sobe, Anna's elder sister, was married to Salomo. Besides her son, Eliud, she had a daughter, Mary Salome, who married Zebedee and was the mother of the apostles James and John. Sobe had a second daughter who was an aunt of the bridegroom of Cana and the mother of three of Our Lord's disciples. Eliud, the son of Sobe and Salomo, was the second husband of the widow Maroni of Naim and the father of the boy raised by Jesus from the dead.
"Maraha, Anna's younger sister, was given the homestead in Sephoris when her father Eliud moved to the valley of Zabulon. She married and had a daughter and two sons, Arastaria and Cocharia, who became disciples. Anna had yet a third sister who was very poor and was the wife of a shepherd on Anna's pastures. She was often in Anna's house. Enue, the third daughter of Stolanus, married and lived between Bethlehem and Jericho. One of her descendants was with Jesus.
"Anna's great-grandfather was a prophet. Eliud, her father, was of the tribe of Levi; her mother Ismeria was of the tribe of Benjamin. Anna was born at Bethlehem, but afterwards her parents moved to Sephoris, four hours from Nazareth, where they had a house and land. They also owned land in the beautiful valley of Zabulon, one and a half hours from Sephoris and three hours from Nazareth. In the fine season of the year Anna's father was often with his family in the valley of Zabulon,' and after his wife's death he moved there altogether. This led to the connexion with the parents of Joachim, whom Anna married. Joachim's father was called Matthat and was the step-brother of Jacob (father of St. Joseph) and of Joses. Matthat had settled in the valley of Zabulon.
"I saw Anna's ancestors helping to carry the Ark of the Covenant with great devotion and piety, and I saw also that they received from the holy thing therein rays of light which extended to their descendants, to Anna and the Blessed Virgin. Anna's parents were rich. This was clear to me because of their possessions; they had many oxen; but they kept nothing for themselves alone, they gave everything to the poor. I saw Anna as a child; she was not particularly beautiful, but yet more so than others. She was far less beautiful than Mary, but remarkably simple and childlike in her piety; I have always seen her like that, whether as girl, mother, or old, old woman. Indeed, whenever I saw a real childlike old peasant woman, it always made me think "she is like Anna". She had several other brothers and sisters, all married, but she did not wish to marry. She was particularly fond of her parents, and though she had at least six suitors, she rejected them all. After taking counsel. like her ancestors with the Essenes, she was directed to marry Joachim, whom she did not yet know, but who sought her in marriage when her father Eliud moved to the valley of Zabulon, the home of Joachim's father Matthat."
There! That wasn't too difficult, was it? Now we know something more about the Blessed Virgin Mary than we did before. Now we know something that the vast majority do not know, nor do they have any incilination or interest in knowing it! She will be surely pleased that we patiently sat through the showing of her family album. It is much like the genealogy of Our Lord that we encounter in one of the gospels of the Mass! It seems to go on forever, but it is necessary and it is a point of honor, to recall and recognize Our Lord's ancestral roots. The same applies to Our Lady! Thank you for sitting through it!
THE PARENTS OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY—JOACHIM AND ANNE
God prepares the lineage
Even before creation and the beginning of time, God, knowing all things and foreseeing all the future, decreed that one day, after the creation of the world and man, and after Adam and Eve's fall, God the Son was to be born of a Virgin Mother. To make sure that this Mother would be worthy of such a thing, God decided that she would have to be the purest human being who ever lived, Therefore, God ruled that she would be miraculously preserved from stain of Original Sin, not only at the time of her birth, but even from the time of her conception in her mother's womb.
However, the Incarnation of God the Son would also require a race or a nation into which He would be born. Therefore, God also decided to prepare a 'Chosen People' to serve and to worship God faithfully and to prepare the way for the Incarnation of the God-Man. Sadly, the Chosen People of Israel were often unfaithful to God. They became increasingly worldly and materialistic, which led them to hope that the promised Messias would be a man after their own heart, a great temporal and political king, who would free them from the shackles and political power of their oppressors, the Romans and bring them power and wealth. Very few people had a correct and godly idea of what the Messias would really be. He would be a man who would reject worldliness, wealth and power, preferring to love and serve God in a spirit of humility and detachment from the world.
It was from among these families that God, by His Providence and His grace, prepared, formed and guided the ancestors of His future Mother. They were extremely simple and devout persons, very gentle and peace-loving and charitable. Out of love for God, they always lived a very mortified life. Often the married couples practiced continence over long periods of time, particularly during holy religious seasons, for their highest ideal was to raise saintly children who in turn would contribute toward bringing salvation to the world. They lived in small rural communities, and they did not engage in business. They worked on the land and tended flocks of sheep; they also had gardens and orchards. They were very conscientious in fulfilling their religious duties. Whenever they had to go to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices in the Temple, they prepared themselves by prayer and fasting and penance. When traveling, they always helped, as best they could, any sick persons or beggars whom they met. And because they led such an austere and detached life, these good people had to endure the scorn of many of the other Jews.
Thus Mary's grandparents inherited from their ancestors a love of humility, chastity, mortification and the simple life. Her mother, St. Anne, and her father, St. Joachim, were the very finest products of this long line of pure and holy servants of God. St. Anne was born in Bethlehem of rich parents, who owned many flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. But they regularly gave away to the poor a large part of their possessions and kept very little for themselves. After Anne's birth, they moved to a beautiful country estate at Sephoris, near Nazareth.
The Marriage of Anne and Joachim
From her childhood, Anne loved to pray and to think about God, but she also grew to be an industrious helper around the home. In fact, while very modest and retiring, she became such a model daughter, that other mothers used to tell their young girls to imitate her. And the more she learned about the awaited coming of the Savior, the more ardently did she pray that God might hasten that happy event.
St. Anne was around her early twenties at the time of her marriage to St. Joachim, who was in his early forties. Joachim was far from handsome. St. Joseph, though no longer young, was in comparison a very handsome man. Joachim was short and broad and at the same time thin, and a wonderfully pious, holy man.
They made their home on the estate of Anne’s father, Eliud. His house belonged to the town of Sephoris, but was some distance away from it, among a group of houses of which it was the largest. Both Anne and Joachim had been serious even in their youth. Now as they matured, they made a distinguished and devout couple. There was something very distinguished about both Joachim and Anne; and there was in them, unknown to themselves, a wonderful seriousness. Though they seldom laughed, they were certainly not sad people. They had a serene and even character, and, even in their young days, they seemed a little like calm and sedate old people.
Married Life & the Cross of Barenness
Though they were quite wealthy, they lived very economically and charitably. Their parents were well-to-do, they had many flocks and herds, beautiful carpets and household things, and many manservants and maidservants. I never saw them cultivating the fields, but often saw them driving cattle out to pasture. They were very pious, devout, charitable, simple, and upright.
Each year they divided all their rents and income and sheep into three parts. Then they gave one-third to the Temple for God's service, one-third to the poor, and they kept only what was left. And yet their flocks and herds continued to increase amazingly. They lived very frugally and gave to all who asked. Very often they gave food to poor travelers and lambs to their needy relatives.
In their home they frequently talked together about God and the coming of the Redeemer, for which they prayed long and fervently. In His wisdom Almighty God proceeded to purify them still further by giving them a heavy cross to bear, a cross which only grew heavier as the years passed: they remained childless. Among the Israelites in those times, this was considered not only the greatest misfortune and disgrace socially, but also a clear indication that the Lord thought such a couple unworthy to contribute toward the coining of the Messias. And so Anne and Joachim had to suffer increasing contempt and even insults from their neighbors and acquaintances. But they took these humiliations with patience and continued to pray that God might bless their marriage with children.
Moving Away for a Holier Life
Anne and Joachim had lived with Anne's father Eliud for some seven years, when they decided to separate from their parents and settle in a house with land in the neighborhood of Nazareth that had come to them from Joachim's parents. There they intended in seclusion to begin their married life anew, a much more mortified and holy life, so as to bring down God's blessing on their union by a way of life more pleasing to Him. For in their profound humility they felt that their great affliction was entirely due to their own unworthiness before the Lord. They also increased their charity and gifts to the poor. And they trained themselves in continence, for they always aspired to greater purity. They even took a solemn vow to dedicate their child, if God gave them one, to His service in the Temple. Thus they lived through another thirteen long, trying years, living devoutly before God in constant yearning for the gift of fruitfulness and with an increasing distress. Ill-disposed neighbors would come to them and speaking ill of them, saying that they must be bad people since no children were born to them. Each time they heard such words, the distress of the good couple was renewed.
Anne's steadfast faith was supported by an inmost certainty that the coming of the Messias was near, and that she herself was among His human relations. She prayed for the fulfillment of the Promise with loud supplications, and both she and Joachim were always striving after more perfect purity of life. The shame of her unfruitfulness distressed her deeply. She could hardly appear in the synagogue without affront. Joachim, though short and thin, was robust, and I often saw him going to Jerusalem with the beasts for sacrifice. Anne was not tall either, and very delicately formed. Her grief so consumed her that her cheeks, though still slightly tinged with red, were quite hollow. They continued to give portions of their herds to the Temple and to the poor, while the portion they kept for themselves grew ever smaller and smaller.
Salt in the Wounds
Then one day when Joachim was offering his sacrifices in the Temple, the priest rebuked and insulted him, saying: "Why do you come here, Joachim? Your offerings are not acceptable to the Lord!" His face burning with shame, the poor man withdrew to a corner of the Temple and prayed: "O Lord, my sins merit this disgrace. But as I accept it according to Thy will, do not cast me away...." Then with a sore heart he left the city and went to some of his flocks on the distant slopes of Mount Hermon. He was so troubled that he stayed there in prayer and penance for several months without communicating with Anne.
Through friends she heard about his being reproached by the priest, and this only added to her keen suffering. She often wept, lying flat on the ground in her room. Once when she refused to allow a lightheaded servant to go out to a party, the girl exclaimed bitterly: "God has inflicted a double punishment on you because you are so severe: you are sterile —and now your husband has abandoned you!" With a sad heart Anne sent the girl back to her family.
Upon kindly and mercifully answering the persevering prayers of Joachim and Anne, almighty God informed the angels: "Joachim and Anne have found grace in our eyes ; We look upon them with pleasure and shall enrich them with choicest gifts and graces. They have been faithful and constant in their trials and in simplicity and uprightness their souls
have become acceptable and pleasing before Us. Let Gabriel as our ambassador bring tidings of joy for them and for the whole human race; let him announce to
them, that in our condescension We have looked upon them and chosen them."
Thus the celestial spirits were instructed in regard to the will and the decree of the Almighty. The holy archangel Gabriel humbled himself before the throne of the most blessed Trinity, adoring and revering the divine Majesty in the manner which befits these most pure and spiritual substances. From the throne an intellectual voice proceeded, saying: "Gabriel, enlighten, vivify and console Joachim and Anne, our servants, and tell them, that their prayers have come to our presence and their petitions are heard in clemency. Promise them, that by the favor of our right hand they will receive the Fruit of benediction, and that Anne shall conceive a Daughter, to whom We give the name of MARY."
The angel approached Joachim, while he was in prayer, saying to him: "Just and upright man, the Almighty from his sovereign throne has taken notice of thy desires and has heard thy sighs and prayers, and has made thee for tunate on earth. Thy spouse Anne shall conceive and bear a daughter, who shall be blessed among women (Luke 1:42, 48). The nations shall know her as the Blessed. He who is the eternal God, uncreated, and the Creator of all, most upright in his judgments, powerful and strong, sends me to thee, because thy works and alms have been acceptable. Love has softened the heart of the Almighty, and has hastened his mercies, and in his liberality He wishes to enrich thy house and thy family with a daughter, whom Anne shall conceive; the Lord himself has chosen for her the name of MARY.
From her childhood let her be consecrated to the temple, and in it to God, as thou hast promised. She shall be elect, exalted, powerful and full of the Holy Ghost; on account of the sterility of Anne, her conception shall be miraculous; she shall be a daughter wonderful in all her doings and in all her life. Praise the Lord, Joachim, for this benefit and magnify Him, for in no other nation has He wrought the like. Thou shalt go to give thanks in the temple of Jerusalem and in testimony of the truth of this joyful message, thou shalt meet, in the Golden Gate, thy sister Anne, who is coming to the temple for the same purpose. Remember that marvelous is this message, for the Conception of this child shall rejoice Heaven and earth."
That evening St. Anne was sitting under a great tree in her garden, reading prayers on a parchment roll and begging God to send Joachim home and to let them have at least one child—she was now forty-four. Just then the Archangel Gabriel suddenly appeared before her in a resplendent human form and declared: "Anne, servant of God. The Lord has heard thy petitions. If He delays their fulfillment, it is in order to prepare thee and to give thee much more than thou askest. The Most High has resolved to give thee and Joachim holy and wonderful fruit, for those who pray to Him in humble confidence are most agreeable to Him. Now He sends me to give thee joyful news: He chooses thee to be the mother of her who is to give birth to the Redeemer of mankind! Thou shalt bring forth a daughter and she shall be called Mary. She shall be blessed among women and filled with the Holy Ghost. I have announced to Joachim that he shall have a holy daughter, but he does not know that she is to be the Mother of the Messias. Therefore guard this secret. And now go to the Temple to give thanks to the Lord, and thou shalt meet Joachim at the Golden Gate."
Gabriel vanished, and St. Anne's humble heart was so overflowing with amazement, heavenly joy and gratitude that the Holy Spirit sustained her lest she faint. She immediately prostrated herself on the ground and for a long time poured out her thanks to God with tears of happiness. That night she dreamed that an angel came and wrote the name of Mary in big luminous letters on the wall of her room, and after midnight she awoke and saw the large bright letters. Deeply moved, she kept gazing at them and thinking lovingly of this marvelous daughter Mary until the letters disappeared with the dawn. Then she arose, prepared herself for the trip to Jerusalem, and left with a servant. She was so deeply happy that she looked much younger.
Meanwhile Joachim had been visited by the Archangel Gabriel during the night while he slept among his flocks. Gabriel told him that Anne was going to give birth to a blessed daughter, who was to be consecrated to God, and that he should go and give thanks in the Temple, where he would meet Anne at the Golden Gate. Joachim awoke filled with joyful consolation and hastened to Jerusalem.
This time the Holy Ghost moved the priests in the Temple to accept Joachim's offerings. Then two priests led him into the Holy Place and left him there alone, after burning incense on the altar. While Joachim prayed on his knees with his arms extended, a bright angel appeared and told him that his childlessness was not a disgrace but an honor, for the child who was to be born of his wife would be the most perfect flower of the race of Abraham. Next the angel anointed his forehead, and gave him a certain mystic blessing which freed him from all sensuality.
St. Anne had just made her offering in another part of the Temple, and as she made her way to the Golden Gate, she met Joachim. Then each told the other what had happened, and together they gave fervent thanks to God for His marvelous answer to all their prayers. Later St. Anne and St. Joachim left Jerusalem and returned to their home near Nazareth, where they gave a great feast for the poor and distributed alms abundantly.
Thus did Almighty God prepare and purify Mary's good parents until the great day at last came when the glorious mystery of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God took place.
The Words of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Bridget of Sweden
"It is a truth that I was conceived without Original Sin and not in sin. A golden hour was my conception. My Son joined my father and my mother in a marriage of such chastity that a purer union has never been seen. Sensuality was extinguished in them. Thus my flesh was formed through divine charity."
The Immaculate Conception of Mary
As the opportune and pre-ordained time had arrived, the three divine Persons conferred with each other saying:
"Now is the time to begin the work of Our pleasure and to call into existence that pure Creature and that soul, which is to find grace in Our eyes above all the rest. Let Us furnish her with the richest gifts and let Us deposit in her the great treasures of Our grace. Since all others, whom We called into existence, have turned out ungrateful and rebellious to Our wishes, frustrating Our intention and impeding by their own fault Our purpose, namely, that they conserve themselves in the happy state of their first parents, and since it is not proper, that Our will should be entirely frustrated, let Us therefore create this being in entire sanctity and perfection, so that the disorder of the first sin shall have no part in her. Let Us create a soul according to Our pleasure, a fruit of Our attributes, a marvel of Our infinite power, without touch or blemish of the sin of Adam. Let Us perfect a work which is the object of our Omnipotence and a pattern of the perfection intended for Our children, and the finishing crown of creation. All have sinned in the free will and resolve of the first man (Rom. 5:12) ; let her be the sole creature in whom We restore and execute that which they in their aberration have lost. Let her be a most special image and likeness of Our Divinity and let her be in Our presence for all eternity the culmination of Our good will and pleasure. In her We deposit all the prerogatives and graces which in Our first and conditional resolve We had destined for the angels and men, if they had remained in their first estate. What they have lost We renew in that Creature and We will add to these gifts many others. Thus Our first decree shall not be frustrated, but it shall be fulfilled in a higher manner through this Our chosen and only one (Cant. 6:8). And since We assigned and prepared the most perfect and estimable of Our gifts for the creatures who have lost them, We will divert the stream of Our bounty to Our well-beloved. We will set her apart from the ordinary law, by which the rest of the mortals are brought into existence, for in her the seed of the serpent shall have no part. I will descend from Heaven into her womb and in it vest Myself from her substance with human nature."
"It is befitting and due to the infinite goodness of Our Divinity, that It be founded and enclosed in the most pure matter, untouched and unstained by fault. Nor is it proper that Our equity and providence overlook what is most apt, perfect and holy, and choose that which is inferior, since nothing can resist Our will (Esther 13:9). The Word, which is to become man, being the Redeemer and Teacher of men, must lay the foundation of the most perfect law of grace, and must teach through it, that the father and mother are to be obeyed and honored as the secondary causes of the natural existence of man. The law is first to be fulfilled by the divine Word by honoring her as His chosen Mother, by exalting Her with a powerful arm, and lavishing upon her the most admirable, most holy and most excellent of all graces and gifts. Among these shall be that most singular honor and blessing of not subjecting her to Our enemy, nor to his malice; and therefore she shall be free from the death of sin."
"On earth the Word shall have a Mother without a father, as in Heaven He has a Father without a mother. And in order that there may be the proper correspondence, proportion and consonance in calling God His Father and this woman his Mother, We desire that the highest correspondence and approach possible between a creature and its God be established. Therefore at no time shall the dragon boast of being superior to the Woman, whom God will obey as hHs true Mother. This dignity of being free from sin is due and corresponds to that of being Mother of the Word, and it is in itself even more estimable and useful. It is a greater good to be holy than to be only mother ; but all sanctity and perfection is nevertheless due to the motherhood of God. The human flesh, from which He is to assume form, must be free from sin. Since He is to redeem in it the sinners, He must not be under the necessity of redeeming His own flesh, like that of sinners. Being united to the Divinity His humanity is to be the price of Redemption, wherefore it must before all be preserved from sin, and We have already foreseen and accepted the merits of the Word in this very flesh and human nature. We wish that for all eternities the Word should be glorified through this tabernacle and habitation of the human nature."
"She is to be a daughter of the first man; but in the order of grace she is to be singularly free and exempt from fault ; and in the order of nature she is to be most perfect, and to be formed according to a special providence. And since the incarnate Word is to be the Teacher of humility and holiness and for this end is to endure labors, confounding the vanity and deceitful fallacies of mortals by choosing for Himself sufferings as the treasure most estimable in Our eyes, We wish that she, who is to be His Mother, experience the same labors and difficulties, that she be singularly distinguished in patience, admirable in sufferings, and that she, in union with the Only-begotten, offer the acceptable sacrifices of sorrow to Us for her greater glory."
This was the decree which the three divine Persons made known to the holy angels, exalting the glory and honor of their high and inscrutable judgments.
"Now the time has arrived" added his Majesty, "which was resolved upon by Our Providence for bringing to light the creature most pleasing and acceptable to Our eyes. That creature, in whom the human nature is freed from its first sin, who is to crush the head of the dragon, who was typified by that singular sign, the woman that appeared in the heavens in Our presence, and who is to clothe the eternal Word with human flesh. The hour is at hand, so blessed for mortals, in which the treasures of Our Divinity are to be opened and the gates of Heaven to be unlocked. Let the rigor of Our justice be softened by the chastisements, which We have until now executed upon the mortals; let the attribute of Our mercy become manifest; let the creatures be enriched, and let the divine Word merit for them the treasures of grace and of eternal glory."
"Now let the human race receive the Repairer, the Teacher, the Brother and Friend, to be life for mortals, a medicine for the sick, a consoler for the sorrowful, a balsam for the wounded, a guide and companion for those in difficulties. Let now the prophecies of Our servants and the promises made to them, that We would send a Savior to redeem them, be fulfilled. And in order that all may be executed according to Our good pleasure, and that We may give a beginning to the mystery hidden since the constitution of the world, We select for the formation of Our beloved Mary, the womb of Our servant Anne; in her be she conceived and in her let that most blessed soul be created. Although her generation and formation shall proceed according to the usual order of natural propagation, it shall be different in the order of grace, according to the ordainment of Our Almighty power."
"You already know how the ancient serpent, since he saw the sign of this marvelous Woman, attempts to circumvent all women, and how, from the first one created, he persecutes all those, whom he sees excelling in the perfection of their works and life, expecting to find among them the one, who is to crush his head (Gen. 3:15). When he shall encounter this most pure and spotless creature, he shall find her so holy, that he will exert all his powers to persecute her, in pursuance of the concept which he forms of her. But the arrogance of this dragon shall be greater than his powers (Is. 16:6) ; and it is Our will that you have particular charge of this Our holy city and tabernacle of the incarnate Word, protecting, guarding, assisting and defending her against Our enemies, and that you enlighten, strengthen and console her with all due solicitude and reverence, as long as she shall be a wayfarer among the mortals."
At this proposal of the Most High all the holy angels, prostrate before the royal throne of the most Holy Trinity, avowed their promptitude and eagerness to obey the divine mandate. Then the Most High chose and appointed those who were to be occupied in this exalted service (the guardianship of Mary) from each of the nine choirs of angels. He selected one hundred, being nine hundred in all. Moreover He assigned twelve others, who should, in a special manner, assist Mary in visible bodily forms; and they were to bear the emblems of the Redemption. In addition to all these holy angels the Almighty assigned and appointed seventy Seraphim, choosing them from the highest ranks and from those nearest to the Divinity, in order that they might communicate and converse with this Princess of Heaven, in the same way as they themselves have communicated with each other, and as the higher communicate with the lower ones. This was a privilege conferred upon the Mother of God, because she was to be a wayfarer on earth and in nature inferior, though in dignity and grace, superior to all the Seraphim.
In order that this invincible warrior-troop might be well appointed, Saint Michael, the prince of the heavenly militia, was placed at their head, and, although not always in the company of the Queen, he was nevertheless often near her and often showed himself to her. The Almighty destined him as a special ambassador of Christ our Lord and to act in some of the mysteries as the defender of his most holy Mother. In a like manner the holy prince Gabriel was appointed to act as legate and minister of the eternal Father in the affairs of the Princess of Heaven. Thus did the most Holy Trinity provide for the custody and the defense of the Mother of God.
The Divine Wisdom had now prepared all things for drawing forth the spotless image of the Mother of grace from the corruption of nature.
By the power of His right hand, He had already selected incomparable treasures of the Divinity to enrich and endow her. A thousand angels were equipped for her guard and custody, that they might serve as most faithful vassals of their Queen and Lady. He had provided a noble and kingly ancestry from whom she should descend and had selected for her most holy and perfect parents, than whom none holier or more perfect could be found in the world. For there is no doubt that if better and more apt parents existed, the Almighty would have selected them for her, who was to be chosen by God as His Mother.
He endowed these parents with abundant graces and blessings of His right hand, and enriched them with all virtues, with enlightenments of divine science and with the gifts of the Holy Ghost. After having announced to the two saints, Joachim and Anne, that He would grant them a daughter, admirable and blessed among women, He permitted the work of the first Conception to take place, namely, that of the most pure body of Mary. The age of Anne, when she married Joachim, was twenty-four, and that of Joachim, forty-six. Twenty years they lived in married life without having a child, and thus Anne, at the time of the conception of her daughter, was forty-four years old, and saint Joachim sixty-six. Although the conception happened according to the ordinary course of nature, yet the Most High freed it from imperfections and disorders, permitting only what was strictly required according to nature, in order that the proper material might be furnished for the formation of the most perfect substance within the limits of a mere creature.
God limited the natural activity in the two parents and, by His grace, prevented any fault or imperfection, substituting for them virtue and merit, and entire propriety in the manner of conception, which, though natural and according to the common order, was nevertheless directed, supplemented and perfected by the action of divine grace, without disturbing the proper effect due to the law of nature. As regards the holy matron Anne, the divine power was more manifest on account of her natural sterility ; in her the conception was miraculous, not only in regard to the manner, but in regard to its very substance. In regard to the conceptions which happen entirely according to the natural order and in virtue of the natural powers, there is no necessity of recurring to, or of depending on, any supernatural cause. The parents in concurring are sufficient causes of the propagation, even in case they furnish the material and the concurrent acts of generation with imperfection and without proper measure.
But in this conception, although the father was not naturally sterile, yet on account of his age and moderation, his natural powers were in a measure suppressed and weakened; and therefore he was enlivened, restored and enabled to act on his part with entire perfection and with the plenitude of his faculties, proportionately to the sterility of the mother. In both of them nature and grace concurred; the former briefly, with measure, and in that which was necessary; the latter overflowingly, powerfully and generously; absorbing, yet not confounding nature, exalting it and perfecting it in a miraculous manner. Thus grace was the origin of this conception, while it called into its service the activity of nature in so far as was necessary for the birth of that ineffable daughter from her natural parents.
The mode of repairing the sterility, of the most holy mother Anne, did not consist in the restitution of that condition, which was wanting in her natural faculties of conception; for thus restored, she would have conceived in no way different from the rest of women; the Lord concurred with her sterile faculties in a more miraculous manner for the formation of the body from natural material. Thus the faculties and the material were of the natural order, but the manner of moving them happened by the miraculous power of the Divinity. As soon as the miracle of this conception had ceased, the mother was left in her former sterility never to conceive again, since no new quality was taken from or added to the natural temperament.
The parents were so entirely governed by grace and withdrawn from concupiscence and delectation, that the accidental imperfections, which ordinarily are the material or the instruments of conception, and which induce Original Sin, were altogether wanting. Thus was furnished a material exempt from imperfection, and furnished in such a manner that the act itself was meritorious. Hence, in so far as this act was concerned, it could easily be free from sin or imperfection, even if divine Providence had not previously arranged every particular of this event. This miracle the Almighty reserved solely for her, who was to be a Mother worthy of Himself. For if it was proper that the material part of His being should have its origin according to the order maintained in the conception of the other children of Adam, it was likewise eminently proper that, without destroying nature, grace should concur in it with all its efficacy and power, and that it should excel in her and act in her more efficaciously than in all the children of Adam; yea, be greater than even in Adam and Eve, who gave origin to the corruption of nature and to its disorderly concupiscence.
In the formation of the body of the most holy Mary, the wisdom and power of the Almighty proceeded so cautiously that the quantities and qualities of the four natural elements of the human body, the sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic and choleric, were compounded in exact proportion and measure ; in order that, by this most perfect proportion in its mixture and composition, it might assist the operations of that holy soul with which it was to be endowed and animated. This wonderfully composed temperament was afterwards the source and the cause, which in its own way made possible the serenity and peace, that reigned in the powers and faculties of the Queen of Heaven, during all her life. Never did any of these elements oppose, or contradict, nor seek to predominate over the others, but each one of them supplemented and served the others, continuing in this well-ordered fabric without corruption or decay. Never did the body of the most Holy Mary suffer from the taint of corruption, nor was there anything wanting or anything excessive found in it; but all the conditions and proportions of the different elements were continuously adjusted, without any want or excess in what was necessary for her perfect existence and without excess, or default in dryness or moisture. Neither was there more warmth than was necessary for maintenance of life or digestion; nor more cold than was necessary for the right temperature and for the maintenance of the bodily humors.
Nor was this body, on account of its admirable composition, less sensible to the influence of heat and cold and the other inclemencies of the weather, but rather, as it was more delicately and perfectly constituted, so it was more acutely affected by any extremes, not being able to furnish a defense against the excess of temperature in those parts, which were more subject to them. Certainly, on the one hand, these extremes would find in such a harmoniously constituted frame much less material in which they could work their changes; nevertheless, on the other hand, the delicacy of its composition made even ordinary influences much more penetrating than greater ones in other bodies.
Just as the hand of our Lord formed the first parents Adam and Eve in such a way as to befit original justice and the state of innocence and therefore also more excellently than their descendants (for the works coming directly from the Lord must be more perfect than those of secondary causes), so His Omnipotence, in a more excellent and superior manner, operated in the formation of the virginal body of the most holy Mary. And this He did with so much the greater solicitude and abundance of grace, as this creature was to exceed in perfection, not only the first parents, who were to sin so soon, but all the other creatures, corporal and spiritual. According to our way of speaking, God exerted more care in composing this little body of His most holy Mother, than in creating all the celestial orbs and the whole universe. In accordance with this rule are to be measured the gifts and privileges of this City of God, from its first beginnings and foundations, to its highest pinnacle next to the infinity of the Most High.
Such was also the measure of the distance between her miraculous Conception and sin and its cause, concupiscence; for not only was she, as the dawn of grace, entirely free from sin, and always so exhibited and treated by the Lord; but also in her parents, sin and concupiscence was restrained and withheld in view of her Conception, in order that nature might not be disturbed, or made imperfect in this work. For nature was to be subject to grace and served merely as an instrument to the supreme Artificer, Who is superior to the laws of nature and of grace It was here that He commenced to destroy sin, and to lay the foundations, building up the castle of the strong armed one (Luke 11:22), who was to undermine evil and deprive it of the possessions which it tyrannically held.
At the instant of the creation and infusion of the soul in the most holy Mother, the most Blessed Trinity, repeated with greater affection of love the words, recorded by Moses at that time concerning man: "Let Us make Mary to Our image and likeness to be Our true Daughter and Spouse and a Mother to the Only-begotten of the Father."
By the force of this divine pronouncement and through the love with which it issued from the mouth of Almighty, was created and infused into the body of most holy Mary her most blessed Soul At the same time, she was filled with grace and gifts above those of the highest Seraphim of Heaven, and there was not a single instant in which she was found wanting or deprived of the light, the friendship and love of the Creator, or in which she was touched by the stain or darkness of Original Sin. On the contrary, she was possessed of the most perfect justice, superior to that of Adam and Eve in their first formation. To her was also conceded the most perfect use of the light of reason, corresponding to the gifts of grace, which she had received. Not for one instant was she to remain idle, but to engage in works most admirable and pleasing to her Maker.
Although She was adorned as the Bride, descending from Heaven, endowed with all perfections and with the whole range of infused virtues, it was not necessary that she should exercise all of them at once, it being sufficient that she exercise those, which were befitting her state in the womb of her mother. Among the first, thus exercised, were the three theological virtues, faith, hope and charity, which relate immediately to God. These she at once practiced in the most exalted manner, recognizing, by a most sublime faith, the Divinity with all its perfections and its infinite attributes, and the Trinity with its distinction of Persons. She exercised also the virtue of hope, seeing in God the object of her happiness and her ultimate end. Toward this, her sanctified soul at once hastened and aspired, with the most intense desires of uniting herself with God and without having, for one moment, turned to any other object, or tarried one moment in her upward flight. At the same instant, also, she put into action the virtue of charity, seeing in God the infinite and highest Good, and conceiving such an intense appreciation of the Divinity, that not all the Seraphim could ever reach such an eminent degree of fervor and virtue.
The other virtues, which adorn and perfect the rational part of the creature, she possessed in a proportion corresponding to the theological virtues. The moral and natural virtues were hers in a miraculous and supernatural measure, and in a still more exalted manner was she possessed of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Ghost in the order of grace. She had an infused knowledge and habit of all these virtues and of all the natural arts, so that she knew and was conversant with the whole natural and supernatural order of things, in accordance with the grandeur of God. Hence, from her first instant in the womb of her mother, she was wiser, more prudent, more enlightened, and more capable of comprehending God and all His works, than all the creatures have been, or ever will be in eternity, excepting, of course, her most holy Son. And all this perfection consisted, not only in the habits, which were infused in Her in such a high degree; but in the acts which she exercised in correspondence with the excellence of her state and in proportion to the activity of the divine power. Therefore, her perfection was not circumscribed by any other bounds, nor was subject to any other limits than God's divine and most just pleasure.
St. Anne Gives Birth to the Blessed Virgin Mary
After God had created Mary's immaculate soul, He showed it to the choirs of angels in Heaven, and they felt intense joy upon seeing its unique beauty.
Then, as Mary's soul was infused into her body, her holy mother St. Ann was filled with the Holy Ghost and experienced an extraordinary devotion and happiness. Throughout the rest of her life and especially during the next nine months, she constantly received new graces and enlightenment concerning the great mystery of the Incarnation, and she frequently praised the Lord in canticles of love.
One night she felt for the first time a slight tremor from the presence of her daughter in her womb. With profound joy she arose, dressed, and told St. Joachim the happy news, and then both gave thanks to God together.
However, in order to increase her merit, God allowed St. Ann to undergo grievous trials during her pregnancy. Although Satan did not know that her daughter was to be the Mother of the Saviour, he perceived that a strong spiritual influence proceeded from Ann, and therefore he did his best to tempt and disturb and harm hen. But she resisted all his attacks with humble fortitude, patience and prayer. Then the enraged Devil tried to make St. Joachim's house crash to the ground, hut Mary's protecting angels prevented such an accident from happening. Next, Satan incited sonic of St. Ann's women friends to treat her with open scorn and mockery because of her late pregnancy. St. Ann did not permit herself to be upset by this injustice, but in all meekness and humility she bore the insults and acted with still greater kindness toward these women. In the end, as a result of her prayers, they amended their ways.
Early in September, St. Ann was informed interiorly by the Lord that the time of her daughter's birth was near. Filled with holy joy, she humbly prayed for a happy deliverance and sent for three of her closest women relatives. When she told St. Joachim, he rejoiced and went among his flocks in order to choose the finest lambs, goats and bulls, which he sent to the "temple in care of his servants as an offering of gratitude to the Lord.
One evening the three woman arrived and embraced St. Ann, congratulating her warmly. Standing with them, she poured forth her deep joy and thankfulness in a beautiful spontaneous canticle, which surprised and thrilled her friends. Then, still standing, they took a light meal of bread, fruit and water, after which they went to lie down and rest.
St. Ann prayed until nearly midnight, when she woke her relatives and went with them into her oratory and lit the lamps. From a closet she took a small box containing some relics of the Patriarchs of Israel. Then she knelt before her little altar. While she was praying thus, a supernatural light began to fill the room. Noticing it, the three friends threw themselves onto the floor and hid their faces in awe. Soon the dazzling light entirely surrounded St. Ann, making her invisible.
A moment later she was holding in her hands a beautiful, spotless, radiant baby, which she tenderly wrapped in her cloak and pressed to her heart. With tears of fervent love and joy, she gazed at her child and then, raising her eyes to Heaven and holding up the baby, she prayed: "O Lord and Creator, with eternal thanks I offer Thee this blessed fruit of my womb which I have received from Thy bounty without any merit of mine. But how shall I be able to treat such a child worthily?"
God gave her to understand that she was to bring up her daughter with all motherly love and care but without any outward show of reverence, while retaining inwardly her profound veneration for the future Mother of the Messias.
In this marvelous yet natural childbirth, St. Ann had been free from the usual labor and pains experienced by mothers. Now she herself bathed and wrapped the babe in red and gray swaddling clothes. As the bright mystic light vanished, the three relatives got up and to their keen surprise and joy perceived the lovely child in her mother's arms. Then they sang a hymn of praise and thanks to the Lord while many invisible guardian angels also greeted the tiny Mary with heavenly music.
Later St. Ann retired to her room and lay down on her bed with her baby in a little cradle next to her, and St. Joachim was called in. The holy old man knelt beside the bed, deeply moved at the sight of this lovely daughter for which he and his dear wife had waited and suffered for twenty long years. While warm tears flowed freely down his cheeks, he carefully took the baby in his arms and sang a fervent hymn of praise to God. Then, as he tenderly embraced his daughter and put her back in the cradle, he murmured with touching humility and piety: "Now I am ready to die!"
At the moment of Mary's birth, Almighty God gave to her pure soul a mystical vision of the Blessed Trinity in Heaven, and by a miraculous privilege He endowed her from birth with the full use of her reason and all her senses. Thus, like many of the saints, though to a far greater degree, even as an infant she knew and loved God with all her heart. And as soon as she opened her eyes on earth, she perceived with keen affection her good parents, St. Ann and St. Joachim, and then she saw the many angels which God had assigned to guard and protect her throughout her life.
The Archangel Gabriel was sent to announce the great news of the birth of Mary to all the Prophets, Patriarchs and souls in Limbo. Upon hearing that at last the Mother of the Redeemer was in the world, they rejoiced and praised God for His mercy toward mankind.
In all Nature there was at this time an extraordinary movement of joy, and many good people felt an unusual spiritual exaltation without knowing its cause. On the other hand, many evil men and possessed persons felt sorely disturbed.
Near the Temple in Jerusalem, old Simeon was awakened by the shouts of a possessed man, who cried: "I must flee—all of us must flee! A Virgin has been born!" Simeon prayed fervently, and the devil left the man.
Anna the Prophetess and another holy woman were shown in visions that a child of election had been given to Israel.
The next day many friends and neighbors of St. Ann and St. Joachim came to see the baby and congratulate the happy parents. Everyone was deeply touched upon seeing little Mary lying in her cradle, wrapped in her red and gray swaddling clothes, and there was general rejoicing.
Now in Heaven the Blessed Trinity announced to the choirs of angels: "Our Chosen One shall he called Mary, and this name is to be powerful in grace."
The Infancy of Mary
Eight days after Mary's birth, all the friends and relatives of the family gathered in St. Joachim's house for the ceremony of naming the baby. According to custom, the mother could not attend the celebration, but remained in her room. Several priests came from Nazareth, and St. Joachim placed his daughter in the hands of their richly robed leader, who lifted her up as if offering her to the Lord, and recited some prayers. Then he wrote the name Mary on a parchment and placed it on her chest. After the singing of some psalms, the ceremony was over and Mary was taken back to St. Anne, while all the guests sat around a long low table and were served a banquet meal.
Later, St. Anne and St. Joachim took Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem for the ceremony of the purification of the mother. St. Anne humbly gave her offerings of a lamb and a turtledove, and prayed to the Lord to forgive her all her faults. Then, entering the Temple with her daughter in her arms, she offered up Mary to God with devout and tender tears. In her heart she heard a voice urging her to renew her vow to give Mary to God's service in the Temple within three years.
At the same time, Mary herself, seeing the grandeur of these buildings dedicated to the worship of the Lord, wished that she could prostrate herself on the floor and kiss it. But as she could not, she prayed: "O Most High God, I adore Thee in Thy holy Temple. Accept me, O Lord, so that I may serve Thee in this holy house according to Thy blessed will!"
As a proof that her prayer was granted, a beam of bright light shone down from Heaven onto the mother and child. And while St. Anne renewed her vow, the angels sang hymns of praise to Almighty God.
The holy man Simeon had been deeply moved when he saw St. Anne and Mary, and now as he dimly perceived the mystic light, he asked himself. "Are these women perhaps the parents of the Messias?" And he prayed still more fervently for the coming of the Redeemer.
The Devil had also been studying St. Anne, but when he saw that she humbly submitted to all the regulations of the priests and even asked them to intercede for her, he decided that she was just another pious woman.
During the next three years in the home of her loving mother, Mary was treated as other children of her age and passed her infancy subject to the common laws of nature. However, she never cried or caused anyone any trouble. Even as a baby, she maintained a pleasant countenance mixed with gravity and a certain majesty. While she showed a special affection for her mother and father, they were inspired by God to handle and caress her with unusual restraint. She ate less than other children and she slept much less, for whenever she could, she prayed and meditated and performed interior acts of love for God. When she accepted any service or benefits from anyone, she always received it with humble gratitude and begged the Lord to reward that person.
Being in possession of all her faculties even from birth, Mary could have talked quite clearly and intelligently even as a baby, if she had wished to. But out of modesty and submission to the will of God, she deliberately refrained from speaking at all until she was a year and a half old. However when alone she did often converse with her guardian angels, and in secret she also prayed verbally to the Lord.
Though she was thus filled with the light of God and His mysteries, nevertheless Mary judged herself to be the least of all His creatures, and she always ascribed to herself the last place of all. Whenever, during that first year and a half, St. Anne freed her daughter's little arms and hands, Mary would immediately grasp her dear parents' hands and kiss them with reverent humility. In fact she continued this practice as long as they lived.
When she reached the age of eighteen months, Almighty God urged her to pray many times every day for the coming of the Messias, and He told her that it was now time for her to converse with others. But Mary exclaimed: "O my Lord, I beseech Thee, consider my frailty. To avoid all risk of losing Thee, I would rather keep silence all my life.”
God promised her, however, that He would assist her in directing all her words to His service and glory.
Therefore one day little Mary spoke her first words to her beloved parents, asking their blessing. At the same time she showed them that she could walk by herself.
With intense joy St. Anne took Mary into her arms and said: "O dearest of my heart, this is a blessed hour! Let your words be few and well considered, and may all your footsteps be directed toward the honor of our Creator!"
During the remaining year and a half before she went to the Temple, Mary spoke very little, except to her mother. In order to make her talk, St. Anne used to call her and ask her to speak of God and His mysteries. Mary, however, would humbly beg her mother rather to instruct her. Thus mother and daughter passed many hours in sweet conversation about holy things.
Often when St. Anne watched her dear little girl in their home, she shed tears of-love and gratitude at the thought that this lovely child was actually chosen by God to be the Mother of the Saviour of mankind. Often they spoke together about His coming and about the fortunate maiden of Israel who would give Him to the world, and then Mary would become inflamed with ardent love and would innocently picture this happy creature in the most glowing terms of awe and reverence. But St. Anne never revealed the great secret of her heart.
Being eager to express in her actions her conviction that she was the least of God's creatures, little Mary tried to help in cleaning and scrubbing the house whenever she could. And sometimes, when she was alone, her angels helped her.
While St. Anne naturally wished to dress her daughter as beautifully as she could, Mary, soon after she began to talk, begged her mother to clothe her in plain ash-gray cloth of cheap and coarse material. St. Anne yielded as to the form and color, but not to the material.
Almighty God had already revealed to Mary how grievously the sins of men offended Him. Consequently she would often retire to her room and prostrate herself on the floor and beg for mercy for poor sinners. Even as an infant she practiced penances and mortifications to a point where she taxed her bodily strength.
When Mary reached the age of two, she began to perform works of charity toward the poor. She begged alms for them from her parents, and she set aside parts of her meals for them. Then she would give them what she had, saying in her heart: "This man, my brother, deserves what he needs and what I possess without deserving it." When she gave her alms to the poor, she used to kiss their hands, and if she was alone, their feet. And in each case she prayed fervently to God to give them spiritual graces as well.
THE BLESSED VIRGIN SAID TO VENERABLE MOTHER MARY OF AGREDA:
“At the first sight of the Highest Good, my heart was wounded with love, and I gave myself entirely to Him.
“I underwent the hardships of infancy like other children. I felt hunger, thirst, sleepiness and other infirmities of the body. In all the difficulties which I endured after I was born into the world, I was resigned and contented, since I had merited none of God's gifts.
"Be very devout toward my most sweet name."
Giving Up Mary to a Life in the Temple
As the time approached when Mary was to be taken to the Temple, St. Anne often gave her lessons, teaching her various prayers and rules of religion. She already knew how to read. Though only three and a half years old and very delicate, Mary seemed like a girl of five or six. Her long, dark hair hung straight down with curls at the end.
One day, three old priests came from Nazareth to give her an examination, in order to determine whether she was worthy of being accepted for service in the Temple. This was a very solemn proceeding. After explaining to her the different duties she would fulfill, they asked her some questions. Her replies were so filled with naive wisdom that the priests could not help smiling their approval, while her parents wept tears of joy. Then during a meal the oldest priest said to her:
"In consecrating you to God, your father and mother promised that you would give up wine, vinegar, grapes and figs. What other sacrifice do you wish freely to add to those. Think it over and tell us later."
Mary was very fond of vinegar. Meanwhile the priests made it clear to her that she was still free to eat whatever she wanted, and all sorts of delicacies were offered to her, but she took very little and from only a few dishes. After the meal, in another room, Mary said that she had decided to give up fish and meat and milk and all fruits except berries. Also she wished to sleep on the floor and to get up and pray three times every night.
Her parents were deeply moved when they heard this. Taking her up in his arms, St. Joachim wept as he said to her: "My dear child, that is far too much! If you lead such a hard life, your father will never see you again!”
The priests then insisted that she should pray only once during the night, like the other girls, that she should allow herself several other relaxations, and that she should eat fish on all the great feast days. They also told her that she would not have to join the poorer girls in washing the bloodstained robes of the sacrificers, but Mary unhesitatingly replied that she would willingly do that work if she were thought worthy. The priests were filled with surprise and admiration, and the oldest gave her a solemn blessing. Then St. Anne, who was deeply moved, pressed Mary to her heart and kissed her with tender love, while St. Joachim caressed her respectfully. Throughout the examinations, under the guidance and inspiration of her angels, Mary had remained perfectly recollected and serious, and at the same time strikingly beautiful and lovable.
A few days later everyone in St. Joachim's home was busy preparing for the trip to Jerusalem. Several fine ceremonial dresses which had been made for Mary were carefully packed up. Finally one morning, at dawn, two donkeys were loaded with baggage, and St. Joachim and St. Anne set out, the latter carrying Mary in her arms. The holy child was very happy to be going to the Temple. During the trip they often had to travel through cold fogs, as it was the rainy season. When they stopped overnight at an inn or some friend's home,.
Mary often went up to her mother and joyfully put her arms around St. Anre's neck. Several times St. Joachim repeated sadly: "My dear child, I will never see you again!"
On arriving in the Holy City, they were met by a group of friends and children who led them to the house of Zacharias the priest, the future father of John the Baptist, where they were made welcome and given refreshments. Then everyone attended a great reception and feast in an inn which St. Joachim had rented for the occasion, as he wished to spare no expense for this great event. Among those present was a ten-year-old girl, later to be known as St. Veronica.
Early the next morning, St. Joachim took his animal offerings to the Temple with several men, while St. Anne, accompanied by many women and girls, led Mary to God's House in a beautiful solemn procession through the streets of the Holy City. Little Mary walked behind her mother. She was dressed in a lovely sky-blue robe with garlands of flowers around her arms and neck, and in one hand she carried a candle decorated with flowers. On each side of her were three girls in white with flowers and candles. Then came other girls and women. Everyone who saw them was touched by Mary's extraordinarily holy appearance.
At the outer entrance to the Temple, they were met by St. Joachim, Zacharias and several other priests. As they passed through the gate, Mary's parents inwardly offered their beloved daughter to the Lord with a fervent and devout prayer. And Mary too, in deep humility and adoration, offered herself to God. She alone perceived that the Almighty welcomed her and accepted her, for she heard a voice from Heaven saying:
"Come, My beloved, My spouse, come into My Temple, where I wish thee to offer Me praise and worship."
Then, crossing the Women's Court, they came to the fifteen steps leading up to the great Nicanor Gate. It was here that St. Joachim and St. Anne had to make the formal offering of their child to the Temple. After a priest had placed her on the first step, Mary, with his permission, turned and knelt before her parents. Kissing their hands with keen love and gratitude, she asked for their blessing and their prayers. With tears in their eyes, her father and mother laid their hands on her head and solemnly pronounced the words by which they gave her to the Lord, while a priest clipped a few locks of her hair. During this moving ceremony, the young girls who had come with the party sang these words of Psalm 44:
"Thou art beautiful ... therefore hath God blessed thee for ever.... Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: and forget thy people and thy father's house. And the King shall greatly desire thy beauty; for He is the Lord thy God .... Therefore shall people praise thee for ever: yea, for ever and ever!"
Then, after St. Anne and St. Joachim had tenderly blessed her, little Mary, without hesitating and without looking back, began to climb up the fifteen steps. She would not let anyone help her, but with remarkable resolution and dignity she hastened up all by herself, filled with holy fervor and joy. Everyone who saw her was visibly affected.
Two priests then led her up to the gallery, from which the Holy Place could be seen, and read some prayers over her, while incense was burned on an altar. Taking from her the garlands of flowers and the candle, they put a brown veil over her head and conducted her to a hall in which ten girls in the service of the Temple welcomed her by throwing flowers before her. Here she met her teacher, who was the holy prophetess Anna.
As the priests left, Mary's parents and relatives came in to say goodbye. St. Joachim was especially moved. He took Mary into his arms and wept as he murmured: "My child, pray to God for my soul!" St. Anne embraced her beloved daughter sadly and tenderly. Then, resigning herself with courage to the will of God, she turned away. As she walked out, she said to the women accompanying her: "The Ark of the Covenant is now in the Temple." With keen sorrow in their hearts, St. Joachim and St. Anne returned to Nazareth.
But in answer to Mary's prayers, God mercifully consoled and comforted them.
Now Mary humbly knelt before her teacher Anna and asked her blessing and forbearance for the trouble she would give her. Next Mary greeted and embraced each of the other girls, offering herself as their servant and urging them to instruct and command her. After taking a meal together, they retired to their little cells.
Mary's room was high up, with a view over the Holy Place and the Inner Temple containing the Holy of Holies. Her cell was very plain , its only furniture being a lamp, a low round table, and a rolled-up carpet which served as her bed. As soon as she found herself alone, Mary prostrated herself on the floor and kissed it, for to her it was holy ground, being part of God's Temple, and she considered herself unworthy of treading upon it. Then she turned to her angels and prayed:
"Messengers of the Almighty, faithful friends, I beseech you to remain with me in this holy Temple of my Lord and to remind me of all that I should do. Please instruct me and direct me so that in all things I may fulfill the will of God."
Humbling herself before God, she said: "Infinite and Eternal Lord, if trouble and persecutions suffered in patience are precious in Thy sight, do not consent that I be deprived of so rich a treasure and pledge of Thy love. But give the rewards of these tribulations to those who deserve them better than I."
This prayer of Mary pleased Almighty God, and He gave her to understand that He would allow her to suffer and labor for love of Him during her life, though she would not know in advance how it would happen. Mary thanked Him with all her heart and then asked to be allowed to take in His presence the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and perpetual enclosure in the Temple. The Lord answered:
"My chosen one, thou dost not yet understand why, it is impossible for thee to fulfill all thy desires. The vow of chastity I permit and wish thee to make. And from this moment I want thee to renounce earthly riches. It is My will that thou observe whatever pertains to the other vows as if thou hadst made them."
Then the holy child solemnly made the vow of chastity before God, and renounced all affection for created things, while she resolved to obey all creatures for the love of God. Her angels proceeded to adorn her with a gorgeous robe and sparkling jewels of many colors that symbolized her virtues.
Next the Lord told her to ask for whatever she desired, and Mary immediately beseeched Him with burning fervor to send the Reedemer to the world so that all men might know Him, to bless her parents with grace, and to console the poor and the afflicted in their troubles.
THE BLESSED VIRGIN SAID TO ST. BRIDGET OF SWEDEN:
“From my infancy the Holy Spirit was perfectly with me. And as I grew, it filled me so completely as to leave no room for any sin to enter.
"When I had attained an age to know something of my Creator, I turned to Him with unspeakable love and desired Him with my whole heart.
“I vowed in my heart to observe virginity if it was pleasing to Him, and to possess nothing in the world, but if God willed otherwise, that His Will, not mine, be done, I committed my will absolutely to Him."
The Death of St. Joachim
Six months after Mary entered the service of the Temple, the Lord appeared to her in a vision and said: "My beloved and chosen one, I love thee with an infinite love, and I desire of thee what is most pleasing in My eyes. Hence I wish that thou dispose thyself for tribulations and sorrows for love of Me."
Mary replied: "I wish only to choose suffering unto death for love of Thee."
Then the Lord continued: "I accept thy desires. And as a beginning of their fulfillment, I announce to thee that thy father Joachim must pass from this mortal to eternal life. His death will happen shortly, and he will pass away in peace and be placed among the saints in Limbo, to await the Redemption of mankind."
Little Mary, who loved St. Joachim with a holy love, felt a keen sorrow and compassion, and she immediately offered a fervent prayer for him. The Lord assured her that He would assist her father.
Eight days before St. Joachim's death, Mary was told the day and hour in which he was to die, and she requested several of her angels to console him in his sickness, which they did. During his last hours, she sent the rest of her angels to help him, and she asked God to let him see them. This favor was granted, and the angels were commanded to say to him:
"Man of God, in order that the pain and sorrow of natural death may be relieved by the joy of thy spirit, the Almighty wishes thee to know now that thy daughter Mary is to be the happy Mother of the Messias! Since thou leavest to the world a daughter through whom God will restore it, do thou part from it in the joy of thy soul, and may the Lord bless thee!"
St. Anne, who was standing at the head of her husband's bed, also heard this message In the same moment St. Joachim lost the power of speech, and he commenced his agony in conflict between joy at this great news and the pains of death. Making many fervent acts of love, faith, humility and thanksgiving, Mary's holy father died the precious death of the saints, and his soul was carried to the Limbo of the Patriarchs and the just, where amid intense rejoicing he shared with them the happy tidings that from Mary was to be born the Redeemer of the world.
When the angels returned and told Mary of her father's death, she begged God to console her mother, good St. Anne.
Soon afterward, the Lord in His wisdom decided to train her further in the science of suffering. From birth she had enjoyed the delights of His love in frequent sensible consolations. Now He suspended all visions and similar graces, and ordered all her angels to conceal themselves from her.
Feeling utterly forsaken in this sudden and unexpected "dark night," in her humility Mary began to fear that it was due to her unworthiness and ingratitude for such precious graces. For days she suffered and longed for the sweet presence of her Lord. Often she said to herself sadly:
"I seek Him, and I do not find Him. Alas for me, my striving serves only to increase my sorrow. My Beloved absents Himself I call Him and He does not answer me Daughters of Jerusalem, I beseech you, if you find my Beloved, tell Him that I am faint and that I am dying with love .... Tell me where is my Beloved. Tell me where He has hidden Himself. Tell me where I can find Him!”
The Death of St. Anne
One day, when she had reached the age of twelve, her angels said to her, still without showing themselves: "Mary, as ordained by the Lord, the life of thy holy mother Anne is now about to come to an end."
This unexpected sad news filled Mary's affectionate heart with sorrow. Prostrating herself before God, she fervently prayed: "O Eternal Lord, dismiss Thy good servant in peace. Strengthen her, assist her, and let her enter into the peace of Thy friendship and grace, since she has always sought it with an upright heart."
God did not answer in words, but that night He commanded Mary's angels to carry her bodily to St. Anne's bedside. Upon seeing her dear mother again, Mary kissed her tenderly and exclaimed: "Good mother, may the Lord be your strength, and may He be blessed, since He has permitted me to receive your last blessing!"
With grave affection the dying St. Anne said slowly: "My beloved daughter, do not forget me in the presence of the Lord, and remind Him of the need I have of His protection in this hour-do not leave me before you close my eyes. You will be an orphan, but you will live under the guardianship of the Lord. Do not leave the Temple before choosing your state of life, with the advice of the priests. Pray that if it be God's will to give you a husband, he may be of the race of David. Share your inheritance with the poor in loving generosity. Without ceasing ask the Almighty to show His mercy by sending His promised Messias. Beseech Him to be your protection. And may His blessing come over you, together with mine."
Then, after giving Mary her blessing, good St. Anne reclined in her daughter's arms and died in perfect peace. She was fifty-six years old. As the angels carried Mary back to her cell in the Temple, her loving heart suffered a keen sense of loneliness. However, while praying for St. Anne, she gratefully thanked the Lord for having given her such a perfect mother and for having showered so many graces on her parents in life and death.
One day not long afterward, for the first time in years, Mary's angels again became visible to her, and said: "Soon thou shalt see Him whom thy soul desires! In order to console His beloved, He afflicts them. In order to be sought after, He withdraws."
Then gradually, by a series of mystical experiences, God endowed Mary's pure soul with new gifts and tranquilized her spirit. At last, having raised her to a still higher spiritual plane, He again revealed Himself to her in an exalted vision which amply rewarded all her suffering and loving anxiety. Once again overwhelmed with joy, Mary prayed: "O infinite Goodness and Wisdom, purify my heart and renew it, so that it may be humble, penitent and pleasing in Thy sight!"