"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

First And Second Hannah

In a painting by Arent Van Gelder done in 1727 Hannah prays while Simeon holds Jesus

irst point, we note that Anna's name can also be written in English as "Hannah.” In the Bible, the first Hannah was the mother of the prophet Samuel, and was a prophetess herself (1 Sam 2:1-10). It is very likely that Luke intended his readers to connect the two Hannah's in the Old and New Testament, since he seems to emphasize the parallels between Samuel and our Lord Jesus in Luke 1-2.

In the Old Testament, Hannah was a second wife besides Peninnah. The story of the first Hannah is one of victory. She is fighting for her fertility with all her heart, all her soul, and all her might. She is so desperate in conceiving a child, because although she is the favorite wife, she does not have a son. Worst, Peninnah, her rival, would torment and bully her, because the LORD had kept her childless. This went on year after year every time they went to make a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the LORD. Hannah can only cry and would even stop eating in response. She seems to be losing the battle. But she persevered until the very end with her two secret weapons, these are, prayer and deep faith. In 1 Samuel 1:10-11, we read: “She wept bitterly. And Hannah vowed a vow. God, if you will look and see the affliction of your handmaid, if you remember me and do not forget me, if you give your handmaid a male child, I will give him to the Lord…” While Hannah was praying at great length there was a priest named Eli who was seated in the chair near the door-post of the Lord’s temple. Hannah caught Eli’s eye who mistook her as a drunkard and a psychotic. Her lips were moving without words. In the Hebrew text, it is described as if she was eating her own prayer or tasting the taste of prayer. Eli approached and scolded her in the temple, saying “How long will you make a drunken show of yourself? Sober up from your wine! ” Poor Hannah raised her eyes tired from too much weeping and turned to Eli and said, “No, you are mistaken. I am not drunk. I am just an unhappy woman having drunk neither wine nor liquor. I am just pouring out my troubles to the Lord.” Eli, realizing his mistake, uttered the following words of blessing upon her, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” After that, she conceived and bore a son and she named him Samuel which derives from a Hebrew phrase meaning “God has heard.”

Second point, the New Testament Hannah was likewise a prophetess but very old. She has haunted the temple of Jerusalem for a long period. She is described almost like a psychotic person too who “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” Her long years of patient vigil were rewarded one day when a holy couple brought their infant son to the temple for the ritual presentation. Unlike the first Hannah, the second Hannah had no speaking lines. But boy! This Hannah at the Presentation in the temple is the very first woman after the Magi, and shepherds to be granted such divine knowledge into the divine mystery hidden in the ordinary temple ritual. The second Hannah may not have offered a child to God like the first Hannah, but she offered herself as the first disciple to proclaim the good news to those who eagerly await the coming of the Redeemer. Poor and without any official title, they lived ordinary lives, but with extraordinary faith.

The third point is the fruit that came out of deep prayer and deep faith, not only by the two Hannah’s but by another woman the BVM. The first Hannah savored her prayer like tasty food—silently, savoring the words in her mouth, concentrating deeply—St Luke makes this wonderful connection with his own version of Hannah because he considers her, no doubt, as the model of Jewish prayer. The two Hannah's worshipped night and day with tears. Much later in Jewish history, with the destruction of the Temple and the end of sacrificial rites, Hannah’s model of praying would become the new way of offering to God in place of an animal sacrifice. And this would bear a significant fruit. The baby Samuel became an offering of Hannah to the Lord, and so was the baby Jesus. This prophet will anoint the significant kings, King Saul, who was the founder of the monarchy and King David, who was the founder of the dynasty which our Lord Jesus would be born into.

Let us not forget though that in Luke’s gospel, together with the baby being offered is also the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I would like to end with this quote from Pope Benedict XVI in his “Six Reasons Not To Forget Mary.” Here is the sixth and last point of his synthesis. I quote, “With her destiny, which is at one and the same time that of Virgin and of Mother, Mary continues to project a light upon that which the Creator intended for women in every age, ours included, or, better said, perhaps precisely in our time, in which—as we know—the very essence of femininity is threatened. Through her virginity and her motherhood, the mystery of woman receives a very lofty destiny from which she cannot be torn away. Mary undauntedly proclaims the Magnificat, but she is also the one who renders silence and seclusion fruitful. She is the one who does not fear to stand under the Cross, who is present at the birth of the Church. But she is also the one who, as the evangelist emphasizes more than once, ‘keeps and ponders in her heart’ that which transpires around her. As a creature of courage and of obedience she was and is still an example to which every Christian—man and woman—can and should look. ” Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ