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Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich, Visionary of the Lives of Jesus and Mary
Today (Feb. 9) is the feast of Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich, a truly remarkable woman. Born in 1774 to peasants in Westphalia, Germany, Anne Catherine Emmerich suffered from bad health her whole life, but was also always very pious. Her visions were likewise lifelong, and she received so many as a child that she assumed all children could see Jesus and the souls in Purgatory. She could diagnose illnesses and recommend their cures, and she was also able to see people’s sins. She worked on farms and as a seamstress, then as a servant to a poor organist who taught her to play organ. She entered an Augustinian convent in 1802 and was known for her enthusiasm and her regular religious ecstasies.
But in 1812, the government closed the convent and Anne Catherine became servant to a poor widow. Unfortunately, her weak health went rapidly downhill and by 1813 she was an invalid in bed. She continued to suffer greatly the rest of her life, including from the stigmata (the wounds Jesus had on his hands, feet, and head during his Passion) and a cross on her chest, and she lived on inedia (no food but the Holy Eucharist). She was what the Church calls a “suffering soul,” who suffered for the expiation of sins and the salvation of others. She was also harassed and threatened by the government. But her visions also continued, more frequently than ever, and she had seen visions of the entire lives of Jesus and Mary by the time she died in 1824.
Below is an excerpt from the Life of Jesus Christ (and Mary), written down by the poet Clemens Brentano at the dictation of Bl. Anne Catherine. There is some debate about the authenticity of Anne Catherine’s many and highly detailed recorded visions about Jesus, Mary, and Old Testament events. The Church has never officially approved them and some allege that Brentano, who wrote them down, took literary liberties with the works. Bl. Anne Catherine herself said that she was told in a vision that Brentano was to write down her visions for her, however, and as the Catholic Church has beautified her it seems safe to say that she would not have lied. And as she was being truthful, God would probably not have reassured her in her vision to trust a man who would insert major falsehoods into the text of her visions. But it is possible that some of the writings have since been inaccurately attributed to her, meaning that the visions can be read for spiritual inspiration but with caution.
This is how Bl. Anne Catherine described what she saw of the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Our Lady, telling Mary she would be the Mother of the Messiah, Jesus (see Luke 1):
“When the little table was prepared, Mary laid a small, round cushion before it and, resting both hands on the leaf, she gently sank on her knees, her back turned to her couch, the door of the chamber to her right. The floor was carpeted. Mary lowered her veil over her face, and folded her hands, but not the fingers, upon her breast. I saw her praying for a long time with intense fervor. She prayed for Redemption, for the promised King, and that her own supplications might have some influence upon His coming. She knelt long, as if in ecstasy, her face raised to Heaven; then she drooped her head upon her breast and thus continued her prayer. And now she glanced to the right and beheld a radiant youth with flowing, yellow hair. It was the archangel Gabriel. His feet did not touch the ground. In an oblique line and surrounded by an effulgence of light and glory, he came floating down to Mary. The lamp grew dim, for the whole room was lighted up by the glory.
The angel, with hands gently raised before his breast, spoke to Mary. I saw the words like letters of glittering light issuing from his lips. Mary replied, but without looking up. Then the angel again spoke and Mary, as if in obedience to his command, raised her veil a little, glanced at him, and said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to thy word!’ I saw her now in deeper ecstasy. The ceiling of the room vanished, and over the house appeared a luminous cloud with a pathway of light leading up from it to the opened heavens. Far up in the source of this light, I beheld a vision of the Most Holy Trinity. It was like a triangle of glory, and I thought that I saw therein the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
As Mary uttered the words: ‘May it be done unto me according to thy word!’ I saw an apparition of the Holy Ghost. The countenance was human and the whole apparition environed by dazzling splendor, as if surrounded by wings. From the breast and hands, I saw issuing three streams of light. They penetrated the right side of the Blessed Virgin and united into one under her heart. At that instant Mary became perfectly transparent and luminous. It was as if opacity disappeared like darkness before that flood of light.
While the angel and with him the streams of glory vanished, I saw down the path of light that led up to Heaven, showers of half-blown roses and tiny green leaves falling upon Mary. She, entirely absorbed in self, saw in herself the Incarnate Son of God, a tiny, human form of light with all the members, even to the little fingers perfect.”
The Annunciation has often been a great preoccupation of Christian artists throughout history, because it is the moment when God became man, when the God-man savior entered the world to redeem it. It was the moment of the Incarnation, which changed history forever. How privileged was Bl. Anne Catherine to witness one of the most important moments in world history!
Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich continues to inspire today, both through her great holiness in suffering and through her recorded visions of Jesus and His Mother.
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