Since the Middles Ages, most of the statues or paintings of St. Anne feature a young Mary at Anne’s side. One of them is holding a book. Anne is teaching Mary to read. Nothing in our ancient tradition says that Anne actually taught Mary to read, but it’s reasonable to think that the source of Mary’s knowledge of the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) was her mother Anne. Stories, lessons, poetry and psalms were passed on, mother to daughter, so that God’s presence and action in the biblical tradition could be cherished by each succeeding generation.
Among the treasured stories we can believe that Mary learned was the story of Hannah, wife of Elkanah. Hannah’s story and Hannah’s own Magnificat are told in 1 Samuel 1–2.1–11. Unable to bear a child, Hannah wept in the temple. She encountered Eli the priest, and after first judging her rashly, Eli then prayed for her to conceive. In time, Hannah gave birth to Samuel. She dedicated the child to God and sent him to the temple to live. Samuel grew up to be a great prophet in Israel. He was the one sent by God to Bethlehem to identify and anoint David as king.
Hannah and Mary – two daughters of the matriarch Sara, who like her, gave birth in unexpected circumstances. Hannah and Mary…who gave their sons over to God with songs of praise and thanksgiving.
Mary, knowing the story of Hannah, took Hannah’s song into her own heart. There it became enlarged, soaring with themes of God’s justice, mercy and love of the poor – Mary’s own Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-56).
Even more than through song, their lives were interconnected. Hannah’s son Samuel anointed David king. Centuries later, Mary, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, bore the Son of God, the Son of David.
Hannah and Mary had believed, trusted and took their next steps, convinced that God, who had seen them through thus far, would raise up their sons as they were meant to be – Samuel a prophet and Jesus the longed for Messiah.
In this month dedicated to Mary, read out loud in prayer the songs of Hannah and Mary. Tell the stories of Hannah and Mary to children and grandchildren as one tells the stories of our family ancestors.
Tell the stories, relish and celebrate the bonds of faith between generations of women in your family and these great Biblical women.
~Sister Joan Sobala