Photo: The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Christ is held by Simeon; the Prophetess Anna holds an open scroll. From the Psalter of Queen Melisende (Jerusalem, between 1131 and 1143).
It should go without saying saying that women aren't optional. Not in our Church. And not in our lectionary.
But on Sunday, February 2, 2020 - the Feast of the Presentation - Catholic parishes will have the option of reading a shortened version of the Gospel account of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple thereby eliminating Anna, the prophetess, from the story. Of course, Simeon, escapes with just some of his words having been excised. (Learn more about other women who are made "optional" or removed altogether from the Lectionary here.)
Now, one might be tempted to conclude that Anna is not a central part of the account because she does not have a speaking role. But, here, I am reminded of the famous saying often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." Anna is absolutely essential to our understanding ofand reflection upon this passage precisely because of what she does, regardless of whether or not she speaks.
Preaching on this passage at Catholic Women Preach, Kathy Lilla Cox reflects, "We know this Anna by her actions – worshipping, fasting, praying, waiting – all actions performed in the temple as she waited for the redemption of Jerusalem, as she waited to see God’s revelation to God’s people, waited to see God face to face, and then proclaim the fulfillment of the promises made in Isaiah."
She continues, illuminating why both Simeon and Anna are essential to the story, "Both Simeon and Anna wait for the Messiah, recognize the Messiah, speak about him, and praise God. Both witness 'the expectation of Israel fulfilled in Jesus.' Simeon speaks for himself, speaks to Mary and Joseph. Anna goes and speaks to the community and whomever will listen about the infant Jesus. She proclaims God’s presence in Jesus to the community."
Thus, with Anna removed from the story, we only get half of what it means to be a believer and follower of Jesus. As Catholics, we know that it is good, but not enough, to make private or personal confessions of faith, no matter how genuine or strong they may be. We are called to go beyond -- to put our faith into action, to be evangelizers, to be missionary disciples. I'm certain that Pope Francis, and indeed no Catholic leader, would suggest that evangelization or missionary discipleship is optional. So why is Anna?
Kathy Lilla Cox concludes her preaching with more points of reflection for us on the prophet Anna. "Anna challenges us when we are tempted to despair and lose hope. By attending to Anna’s story, we are asked: can we wait with her for an undetermined period of time? Can we prepare with fasting and prayer? Can we develop a willingness to see the infancy of God’s promises being incarnated into the world, a world awaiting and needing restoration, reconciliation, redemption, and peace? And then when God arrives, in persons young, vulnerable, and needing care, can we recognize that we are seeing God face to face, give thanks, and proclaim God’s presence in our midst to others awaiting redemption, even as we continue to hope for God’s promises to be fully realized?"
FutureChurch encourages you to talk to your parish pastor, deacon, liturgist, pastoral minister or other appropriate person and ask them if they plan to read the entire Gospel passage for February 2nd. And if they aren't planning on it, ask them to, and tell them why Anna isn't optional. And if they're looking for some inspiration for their preaching, direct them to Catholic Women Preach.