If we asked most Catholics who Mary’s parents were they would probably answer Anna and Joachim. But if we look in the Holy Bible there is no mention of Mary’s birth or the name of her parents. So how do we know their names? The simple answer is through tradition. As Catholics, we believe that God reveals His truths to us through the Holy Bible AND through tradition. Tradition was sacred to the Jews (we all know that great song from Fiddler on the Roof) and is also sacred to us. St. Paul tells us to “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess. 2:15).
On September 8th we celebrate the birthday of Mary. This is exactly nine months after we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. This feast was celebrated no later than the 6th century. An eastern Saint, St. Romanos, a deacon who composed numerous liturgical songs, wrote a hymn celebrating the birthday of Mary. The hymn was quite popular and used in liturgies to celebrate the birthday of Mary which helped lead us to the feast day. The Eastern Churches first celebrated it and then within a century the Roman Church celebrated it. St. Romanos relied heavily upon the apocryphal writing, The Protoevangelium of St. James, in composing the lyrics to his hymn on the Nativity of Mary.
As an apocryphal writing, we must realize that the Church decided that this book was not inspired as scripture and it was not placed in the canon of the bible. However, this writing has been seen as a good source of tradition from the earliest times of the Church. Most scholars believe that it was composed around 145 AD. Because of this, and the language structure, we know that St. James did not write it. However it came from an area where St. James had followers and there may be some things passed on from him in the writing. In view of all of this, and with a certain amount of caution, I would like to share some of the points covered in the Protoevangelium concerning Mary and her birth and upbringing.
The Protoevangelium does repeat many items found in the scriptures concerning Mary and the birth of Jesus. But it adds details prior to that not mentioned in the sacred scriptures. It tells us that her parents were named Joachim and Anna and that Joachim and Anna were unable to conceive for many years and that both of them became depressed at not being able to have children. It tells us that Joachim became so depressed that he went out to the desert to live in solitude in a tent where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights pleading with God. At the same time, Anna grieved not having Joachim with her and not being able to become pregnant. She prayed that God would bless her as He had blessed Sarah with Isaac. The Protoevangelium tells us that an angel appeared to Anna and told her that God had heard her prayer and that “you shall conceive and bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world”.
About the same time, an angel appeared to Joachim and told him that God had heard his prayers. He was told to go to Anna and that Anna would conceive a child. Nine months later Anna gave birth to a little girl and they name her Mary. The Protoevangelium tells us that at the birth Anna said, “My soul has been magnified this day.” The writings go on to say that Mary walked at six months old. When she was one year old, Joachim held a great birthday feast for Mary and invited the priests, scribes and elders and all the people of Israel. The priests blessed Mary saying, “O God of our fathers, bless this child and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations”.
The Protoevangelium tells us that at the age of three Joachim and Anna took Mary to the temple to be raised there hoping that her heart would be captivated by the Temple. When they gave her to the priest he kissed her and blessed her saying, “The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel.” The priest put her down on the third step and the grace of God came upon her and Mary danced with joy and the people loved her.
The Protoevangelium goes on to tell us that Mary stayed in the temple until she was 12 years old. At that time the chief priest received a visit from an angel while in the Holy of Holies telling him to assemble the widowers of the people and that God would give a sign as to which widower He chose for Mary. When all of the widowers assembled the High Priest again prayed to God for a sign to show which widower would receive Mary as his wife. When a dove appeared and landed on Joseph’s head, the high priest declared him to be the one who was chosen. At first Joseph declined saying that he had children and was an old man and it wasn’t good for him to take such a young girl. The chief priest reminded Joseph that it was God’s will and Joseph said to Mary, “Behold I have received you from the temple of the Lord; and now I leave you in my house and go away to build my buildings, and I shall come to you. The Lord will protect you”.
As interesting as all this is, we must remember that the Church refused to recognize the Protoevangelium as sacred scripture. We cannot be sure of any truth found here, but as I said earlier, this is a very early writing that passes on at least some of the tradition handed down about our beloved mother, Mary. It might help us imagine a little better the life of the most significant woman who ever walked the earth (and rule in Heaven). Hail Mary full of grace…….
As Saint Augustine said, “She is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley. Through her birth the nature inherited from our first parents is changed.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOTHER MARY….WE LOVE YOU