Above is an icon of Saint Anne with Immaculate Mary, her infant daughter, who is already by vocation Mother of God, respected as such by the Holy Angels.
Anne in Hebrew is Hannah, חַנָּה. Most translate this name as grace, favor. That’s appropriate, since Saint Gabriel’s greeting to Mary so as to announce to her that she is to be the Virgin Mother of God, was this: “Rejoice, you who perfectly continue to stand perfectly transformed in grace since the instant…” [in context, that Mary’s vocation to be the virgin Mother of God was received, that is, at the first instant of her conception].
I first heard this explanation – grace, favor – of the name Hannah when I was slogging through the propaedeutic year of languages at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. But with me being freaky pedantic, I sought philological extravaganzas and, the next day, raised my hand to ask Sister Timothy Elliot, our professor, whether or not there was another possibility for the name Hannah, say, perhaps “womb”, indeed, “mercy.” She thought for a second and, eyes bright, said yes. Emboldened, I added a few philological notes, and she waxed poetic on that philology for a minute, confirming my findings.
Anyway, you’ll remember that Hannah is the prophet Samuel’s mother. She was granted the mercy of being a mother by God Most High, and she brought her little son to the temple to grow up there. “Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will.” Hannah sang about her experience, a hymn of praise and thanksgiving which, we can be quite sure, had been memorized and sung by another Hannah more than a thousand years later, the mother of Immaculate Mary. And surely Mary heard this, memorized this, carried this, sang this, the song of a Maternal warrior:
- “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones; but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:1-10)
Sound familiar? Let’s see how Immaculate Mary, The Warrior Woman of Genesis 3:15, recast this for her own circumstances as Virgin Mother of God, Jesus being the fulfillment of the new priesthood which Samuel, son of Hannah, put into motion back in his day:
- “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.” (Luke 1:46-55)
To sing with such humility, truth, reverence, praise, with a military edge, demands of any singer, Hannah/Anne/Mary, an experience of suffering.
And that brings us to Mary’s name, Miryam, מִרְיָם, “bitterness” and “sea”. We recall once again the Lamentations:
- “Is this nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see! Is there any sorrow like mine, which was inflicted on me, which the LORD made me suffer on the day of His fierce anger?” (Lamentations 1:12)
Back to Miryam, Mary. When I lived atop the cave of Elijah atop Mount Carmel for a month, I would sometimes look over the sea. I wondered out loud to my guardian angel what it is that Elijah saw coming out of the sea as a sign that the terrible drought of years was now over, you know, upon his praying seven times. The Hebrew is ambiguous, simply mentioning that his servant reported to Elijah that a small cloud (laden with rain) was seen arising from the sea, a cloud like a man’s hand/foot. הִנֵּה־עָ֛ב קְטַנָּ֥ה כְּכַף־אִ֖ישׁ עֹלָ֣ה מִיָּ֑ם
Forget translations, which often say “hand”. I think not. I think it was a small cloud laden with rain looking like a man’s foot. Why’s that? Because the cloud laden with rain as salvation for Israel is arising out of the bitter sea, that is Miryam, Mary. The first image of salvation we see in the Sacred Scriptures is in Genesis 3:15, whereby salvation is being brought by the initiative of the Savior to reach out His heel to crush the head of the great serpent, the ancient dragon, Satan, with that Redeemer/Savior Himself being crushed as indeed we saw with the crucifixion of Jesus, Son of Miryam, Mary, that Bitterness immense as the Sea under the Cross.
The moment I had asked my guardian angel about that cloud laden with rain back in the Book of Kings, a small cloud laden with rain immediately formed directly in front of me, over the sea, directly in front of Elijah’s cave. That’s the picture I took of that cloud above. Yikes!
7 responses to “Maternal warriors who sing: Hannah, Anne, Mary Immaculate. What’s in a name?”
I really like your translation, Father, of the name “Hannah” as being “mercy”. My name, Jane, is supposed to mean “God’s gracious gift”; on a Jewish website (Aish.com), I learned recently that the Hebrew translation of ‘Jane’ is “Chana” – with ‘Hannah’ I think, being an anglocized version of it. God’s mercy – how much I and all of us, need a reminder of it – , and Mary and her holy name, is a true reminder of it.
That photo looks like Mary holding Jesus – like Michelangelo’s Pietà.
High bump is Mary’s head. Left bump is Jesus’ head
She was so young to have grasped all that her words expressed. A girl still in her teens and yet her Immaculate Conception and her perfect love of God made it possible. It is amazing, wonderful and beautiful to think on, lifting our hearts damaged by sin to also rejoice in God our Saviour, and to be so very grateful to her who never drew back from all that was required of her despite the terrible cost to herself.
That cloud is interesting, Father, and now 007 has mentioned what he can see, I can read it that way in conjunction with what Elijah saw, making for fruitful and grateful reflection. Thank you both.
It is an honour to be given St Ann’s name as one of one’s own, for which I am indebted to a dear Irish priest who left his homeland early last century to serve in New South Wales. Many years later he was my parents’ parish priest in suburban Sydney where he married them. Three years afterward they brought me along to him, their newborn and only child to survive birth, to be baptised. The two names my parents had settled on to give me were not names belonging to known saints, and dear Father Donovan was not having it and told them so. Mum and Dad paused to think on the matter but were apparently taking too long because Father announced, “Ann it is!” and my baptism got underway. Ann is not my first name – Father added it to the two my parents had chosen – but it is my favourite and I use it as if my first when I can.
I love Ann’s story of her Baptism. I know I would have loved that “dear Irish priest.” I am an old enough “croc” to be able to remember those wonderful, loving priests who cared enough for the souls of their flock to put a “man’s foot” down firmly when needed. I remember one priest who would look at the bride’s dress, and, if it was too much of an anatomy lesson, would get the cope and make her wear it over the dress. He would even say, “That is for your new husband tonight. It is not for standing before God in this sanctuary right now.” I hope warriors such as this return to our sad and sick world soon.
When my brother Roy was baptized, I remember the priest pronounced his name as Rufus. As a little six year old, I thought Rufus was Latin for Roy, but now I am pretty sure our parish priest felt the same way Aussie Mum’s Father Donovan did and added a saint’s name. What a blessing it is to have a priest who cares more for souls than ‘politeness’.
On a current note: Our parish has a new priest who was ordained less than a year ago. His enthusiasm for Jesus and his homilies are so refreshing. Thank You Jesus.
Wonderful Baptismal stories. Thank you!