The Catholic Moment: The prophetess Anna as a model for Advent
Dec. 3, 2010
By Father Kyle Schnippel
“There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38).
As the days continue to shorten and the weather turns colder, we prepare once again for the coming of the Christ Child. His birth had long been foretold through the prophets of Israel, but they had fallen silent over the past 200 years or so. Into the silence, the angel Gabriel steps into human history to announce tidings of great joy: the Messiah is on His way!
As we go through Advent, we must still have this awareness, but with the rampant commercialism that has become of Christmas, it can be hard to recognize His coming. Between Christmas music starting before Halloween, loud sale advertisements filling TV and radio waves and the necessities of trimming the tree and decking the halls, it can be very easy to miss the deeper meaning of this holy season: Christ is coming to bring us salvation!
In the midst of the sometimes chaotic nature of this season, the prophetess Anna, mentioned above in the infancy narrative from Luke’s Gospel account, presents a model of how we should anticipate the Lord’s coming. It is based in three things: prayer, fasting, and sacrifice.
She is an example of unceasing prayer, worshiping “night and day with fasting and prayer.” Because her prayer is in the temple, we can deduce a few things about what her prayer life entailed. First, it was liturgical, for there was a regular pattern of sacrifice and offerings in the temple. Daily offerings were made to the Lord God; Sabbath observances, and the major pilgrimage feasts of Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah all would be part of her devotional life. In the midst of these feasts, a daily pattern of reading the Scripture and discussing their import would have been part of the milieu of the temple area.
While her prayer life was of primary importance, Anna also practices fasting and almsgiving, embracing a life of sacrifice to bring her heart closer to God. She recognizes that so many things can keep the heart from resting in God as it should. For her, fasting and sacrifice become necessary to help the heart and soul hunger solely for the Lord.
Anna’s model is something that, as Catholics, we can (and should) embrace during this Christmas season. As we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child once again, we should ask ourselves: Have I participated fully in the liturgical life of the parish that I might be formed by the Mass and fed by Christ himself? Do I read the Scriptures every day that I might come to know Jesus present in the word of God? Do I participate in eucharistic adoration that my heart might become more like His? In this season of sharing, have I given not only from my surplus, but generously from the heart?
In doing so, we will be able to recognize, with the prophetess Anna, Christ’s presence when He appears in our life. The longing in our hearts will be filled by the author of our lives. In this, we will become true heralds of great joy: Christ has come, God truly is with us! Let us rejoice and be glad in it.