I have been reading up on Candlemas (Feb 2) today, a feast I particularly love because one of the blessing prayers mentions the bees. I am a bit afraid of bees, actually, but I think it is great fun when they are mentioned in church, especially in a solemn way, in Latin.
The Gospel reading is about the purification of Our Lady (after childbirth) and the presentation of Our Lord. It mentions an elderly man and an elderly widow, and although the elderly man composed the Nunc Dimittis on the spot, it is Anna who interests me today.
According to Luke, Anna lived with her husband for seven years before she was widowed. I don't know why Anna was living in the temple; maybe her husband or her father had some kind of important temple connection. (Off the top of my head, I would guess it was her father, as Anna is known as the Daughter of Phanuel, not the Widow of Somebody Else.) But at any rate, Anna lived there, praying and fasting, until at least the age of 84.
Now, if Anna married at 14, which would have been perfectly normal for those days, this means she was widowed at 21 and stayed a widow for at least the next fifty-nine years. Presumably she could have married again, but presumably she didn't want to. She was happy in the temple, praying and fasting and doing whatever it may have been that women who lived in the temple were expected to do, and after fifty-nine years of temple living, met Baby Jesus.
That's pretty neat, if you ask me. It's amazing how little space Anna's story has in the Gospel, given its hold on our imaginations. Anna, daughter of Phanuel, tribe of Asher. Widow, aged 87. Married 7 years. Never left temple, worshiped, prayed, fasted. Came to Presentation/Purification ceremony. Recognized Jesus for who He was. Praised and preached. The end--or the beginning, really. Now Anna is one of the most famous women who ever was, for the Bible is the most widely read book there ever has been. More importantly, of course, she got to see Jesus before she died, as an actual baby. Maybe she was allowed to hold him and bounce him up and down. Wouldn't you love to do that?
Anna seems like a serious and single-hearted woman, not given to mourning over what-could-have-been and feeling sorry for herself or envying women with children or any of the temptations adult women give into every day. Those fifty-nine years of life, though pious, couldn't have been dull. They must have been lived in joyful expectation of something great to come, and lo and behold, He did!