Every day when I would vest for Mass in the sacristy I stood facing the window of Saint Anne. There were two stained glass windows in the sacristy: one was Saint Anne and the other was her husband Saint Joachim. They are inseparable. One of our parishes in Cedarhurst is called Saints Joachim and Anne. You never find them separated. Theirs must have had an exceptional marriage. Of course they had the most famous daughter in history—Blessed Mother Mary, or as they would have called her Miriam. The stained glass window of Saint Anne was a reminder to the priest just where our salvation begins—within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this reason, Mary had to remain from the very beginning untouched by original sin. While she suffered greatly the results of sin, she herself was never corrupted by sin.
And so this week the Church celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary within the womb of Saint Anne. She was of course, the grandmother of Jesus. We don’t often think of Jesus as having a grandmother and grandfather, but that is who Joachim and Anne were.
The Church has been celebrating this feast day since the 7th century, when it was originally called the feast of the “Conception of Mary by Saint Anne.” Mary who would be the Mother of God was created without sin in the womb of her mother Saint Anne. When she is conceived within the womb of Saint Anne, Mary is given what Adam and Eve gave away—perfect sinlessness. Mary was given this freedom from sin so that she might be the re-creation of what God had originally intended. It was Saint Bernard who said it more succinctly: “Mary is what we were supposed to have been.” She is therefore the “model of holiness” for us. At her conception, the human person is reengineered to holiness. The human race gets a reboot, a restart, a second chance. Her obedience undoes the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Sin enters the world through disobedience; salvation enters the world through obedience.
There is a most beautiful church in Quebec, Canada called Saint Anne de Beaupré. It is not easily accessible because it is way out in the fields. The name “beaupré” means “in the beautiful field.” Legend has it that sailors making their way down the treacherous Saint Lawrence River often were shipwrecked nearby and encountered great storms along the river. In 1658 the sailors built a church to Saint Anne “in the beautiful field” to implore her protection. As we celebrate the great feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary by Saint Anne, we recall this patroness of sailors, Saint Anne who has given us Mary, the vessel of holiness and who assists us on the great voyage to heaven.
– Fr. Gerard Gordon