Sunday, February 2, 2014

Lest we forget Anna, the prophetess

As I was at Mass this morning, as well as earlier as I prayed Lauds, I was struck by what short shrift Anna, the prophetess, is given in the liturgy for today's Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Along with Simeon, whose canticle is well-known, Anna recognized in the infant Jesus Israel's long awaited Messiah and her Redeemer. She is certainly very significant. Otherwise she would not have been mentioned in St. Luke's account of our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph presenting the Christ child in His Father's house, as prescribed by Jewish Law.

Using the King James Version of the Holy Bible, here's what sacred Scripture tells us about her:
And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38)
The Prophetess Anna, by Rembrandt, 1631

The name "Anna" means grace, or favor. Along with Simeon, she personifies Israel's waiting for the Messiah, who, in the Christ child, she recognizes not only as Messiah, but as Redeemer and, arguably, as Lord. According to the commentary on St. Luke's Gospel by Robert Karras, OFM, found in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, "The pairing of Simeon and Anna corresponds to that of Zechariah and Elizabeth... and foreshadows an impressive theme in Luke." For the "impressive theme," Karras turns to German scholar Helmut Flender's St. Luke, Theologian of Redemptive History- "Luke expresses by this arrangement that man and woman stand together and side by side before God. They are equal in honor in grace, they endowed with the same gifts and have the same responsibilities."

In light of my current re-reading of Bl. Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body catecheses, I find Flender's assertion about the fundamental equality of men and women before God most timely. It bears noting that equal does not mean identical, which is precisely what this pairing of Simeon and Anna demonstrates. If it were not so, no such pairing would be required because a man could stand in place of a woman and vice-versa.

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