July 26: Saints Anne and Joachim,
model grandparents for all families

Sts. Anne and Joachim with the Virgin Mary in a painting by Flemish master Abraham Willemsen (1605-1672). (Public domain)

On July 26, the Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim. As a grandmother of seven children, ranging in age from 9 months to 22 years, I have a special fondness for the parents of the Virgin Mary and grandparents of Jesus, Son of God.

Although devotion to the holy couple can be traced to the early Christian era, much of what is known about them comes to us from non-canonical sources. Absent any reference to them in Scripture, it’s not surprising that legends surrounding their lives abound.

Some have cast Joachim as a wealthy merchant, others as a shepherd, and still others as a peasant farmer. While his social and economic status is debatable, all sources seem to agree that the couple was childless for much of their married life, which for Jews was no small hardship.

Not unlike Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, Anne became pregnant with Mary after years of praying to be blessed with a child, whom she promised to dedicate to the Lord.

According to the Protoevangelium of James, a text dated to the 150s AD that influenced Mariology, Anne’s pregnancy was foretold by an angel who appeared to her, prophesying that all generations would honor her future child: “The Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.”

Whether the vision took place or was written in hindsight after Christianity began to flourish cannot be verified. However, the fact that Mary was taken to the temple and dedicated to God at the age of three has gained wide acceptance, and it implies that Anne and Joachim had some understanding of the favor that God bestowed on their daughter.

Although there is no mention of the dedication in Scripture, the Church established the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple in the Eastern Church in 543 and added it to the Roman Missal in 1472.

Theologically, the consecration of Mary being offered to God as a virgin at a young age fits well with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which proclaims that Mary – free of original sin – was chosen by God, as a most-pure vessel through whom the Son of God would enter the world.

The same Protoevangelium of James describes Mary as intellectually advanced for her age, devoted to God, and of a kind and amiable disposition.

The strong character of Mary in making decisions, her continuous practice of prayer, her devotion to the laws of her faith, her steadiness at moments of crisis, and her devotion to her relatives as exhibited by her actions as recorded in Scripture are indicative of her being raised in a close-knit, loving family that looked forward to the next generation, even while retaining the best of the past.

With God as the center of their lives, Anne and Joachim serve as a model for all families. We don’t know if they lived to see the birth of their grandson, Jesus. It seems unlikely since Christian tradition maintains they didn’t become parents until late in life and there is no mention of them in Scripture.

However, just as parents never stop being parents, so the same maxim can be applied to grandparents, whether dead or alive.

Although my grandparents have been deceased for many years, they come to mind often, especially at Mass when we pray for the deceased, for even death cannot separate us from the bond that we share as members of the communion of saints.

Parents and grandparents, living and deceased, represent a series of generations who quietly and faithfully perform their duties, practice their faith, and establish an atmosphere with God as the center of their lives.

It’s a reminder to grandparents to establish a tone for generations to come by making religious traditions part of everyday life and God the center of the family.

And yet, the feast also has a message for younger generations. It reminds them that life experience affords older people greater perspective, depth of knowledge and appreciation of life’s profound rhythms that are all part of a wisdom not to be ignored or taken lightly.

At a time when many young people no longer feel the need for religious affiliation, grandparents and parents have a responsibility to pray that the seeds of faith, planted in years past, will one day flower and bear fruit that will nourish their children and grandchildren for future generations.


Barbara Hughes is an author, retreat facilitator and spiritual guide. She lives in Virginia Beach and can be reached at [email protected].

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