The feast day of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated Dec 8. Few realize the powerful story behind this event. Only Anne Catherine Emmerich (1) has revealed the details from more than 2,000 years ago.
ANNA IS BARREN
The story begins 20 years before, during the time of the Essenes. Anne (referred to in Emmerich's journal as "Anna,") had conceived and given birth to a daughter, Mary Heli.
For the next 19 years, Joachim and Anna were unable to conceive another child—a punishment, Anne assumed, for her uncharitable treatment of a maidservant.
Seven years after the birth of their first child, Anna and Joachim moved from Eliud's home (Anna's father) to a home of their own near Nazareth. According to Emmerich, it was their hope to start anew, away from those who judged them because of Anna's barrenness. (In those days, the inability to conceive was considered a punishment from God.)
I now saw the holy couple beginning an entirely new life here. It was their intention to offer to God all that was past and to behave as though their marriage had only then taken place, endeavoring to live in a manner pleasing to God, and thus to bring down upon them His blessing which they so earnestly desired beyond all else.
JOACHIM GOES TO THE TEMPLE
Once settled in their new home, Joachim traveled to the Temple to beseech God's blessing of another child.
When Joachim arrived at the Temple, however, the priest refused his offering and berated him in the presence of the others, forcing Joachim to leave in shame. Devastated, Joachim traveled to Mt. Herman to attend his herd and pray, according to Emmerich, for five months.
AN ANGEL VISITS ANNA
Anna was inconsolable when she heard the news of Joachim's humiliation. Resigned to God's will that she would remain barren, Anna prayed only for Joachim's return.
Kneeling beneath a large tree in the courtyard, Anna pleaded with God to send Joachim to her. Suddenly, an angel appeared to tell Anna that her prayers had been answered and she would once again conceive. She was then instructed to go to the Temple where she would find Joachim.
The next morning, before heading on her journey, the angel visited Anna was once again.
After she had slept for a short time, I saw a brightness pouring down towards her from above, which on approaching her bed, was transformed into the figure of a shining youth. It was the angel of the Lord, who told her that she would conceive a holy child. Stretching his hand over her, he wrote great shining letters on the wall which formed the name MARY. Thereupon the angel dissolved into light and disappeared.
Joachim was likewise visited by an angel while attending his flocks on Mount Hermon:
Remembering his humiliation at the Temple, he had abandoned the idea of going as usual to Jerusalem for the feast and offering sacrifices, but as he was praying I saw an angel appear to him, telling him to be of good courage and to journey to the Temple, for his sacrifice would be accepted and his prayers granted. He would meet his wife under the Golden Gate.
Both Anna and Joachim arrived in Jerusalem on the fourth day of the Feast of Tabernacles. They did not reunite, however, until the end of the feast. Joachim obtained lodging near the Temple and Anna with Zechariah's family.
Once again, Joachim entered the Temple with his offerings. Having been abruptly punished by God for treating Joachim so harshly, the priest went out to meet Joachim to receive his gifts.
As the smoke arose from the offering, I saw as it were a beam of light falling upon the officiating priest in the Holy Place and at the same time on Joachim without in the hall. There came a sudden pause in what was going on, it seemed from astonishment and the realization of something supernatural.
The two priests brought Joachim from the hall and led him to the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place and then departed, leaving Joachim alone. Once again, an angel appeared to Joachim.
While the incense-offering was being consumed I saw Joachim in a state of ecstasy, kneeling with outstretched arms. I saw approaching him a shining figure of an angel, such as later appeared to Zechariah when he received the promise of the Baptist’s birth. The angel spoke to Joachim, and gave him a scroll on which I recognized, written in shining letters, the three names Helia, Hanna, Miriam [Joachim, Anne and Mary].
I saw the angel approach the Ark of the Covenant, and it seemed to me as if he took something out of it, for I saw him hold towards Joachim a shining globe or circle of light, bidding him breathe upon it and look into it.
Then I saw as if all kinds of pictures appeared in the circle of light when Joachim breathed on it and that these were visible to him. His breath had in no way dimmed the circle of light, and the angel told him that the conception of Anna’s child would be as untarnished as this globe, which had remained shining in spite of his having breathed on it.
JOACHIM RECEIVES THE BLESSING FROM THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
Touching Joachim's forehead with the tip of his thumb and forefinger, the angel gave to Joachim, what appeared to Emmerich as a glowing ear of corn and cluster of grapes, freeing Joachim from every inclination of sin.
It was revealed to me, that with this blessing Joachim received the highest fruit and the true fulfillment of Abraham’s blessing, namely the blessing for the immaculate conception of the most Holy Virgin who was to bruise the head of the serpent. The angel then led Joachim back into the Holy Place and disappeared, upon which Joachim sank to the ground in an ecstasy as though paralyzed.
ANNA AND JOACHIM MEET
Once Joachim had recovered, priests guided him to a door, behind which was a gradually-sloping passageway beneath the Golden Gate. (2) Unbeknownst to Joachim, Anna had likewise entered the tunnel from the opposite end and was approaching him at the same moment:
The walls were of glistening gold and green, and reddish light shone in from above. I saw beautiful pillars like twisted trees and vines. After passing through about a third of the passage Joachim came to a place in the midst of which stood a pillar in the form of a palm tree with hanging leaves and fruits. Here he was met by Anna, radiant with happiness.
They embraced each other with holy joy, and each told the other their good tidings. They were in a state of ecstasy and enveloped in a cloud of light. I saw this light issuing from a great host of angels, who were carrying the appearance of a high shining tower and hovering above the heads of Anna and Joachim.
I understood that, as a result of the grace here given, the conception of Mary was as pure as all conceptions would have been but for the Fall. I had at the same time an indescribable vision. The heavens opened above them, and I saw the joy of the Holy Trinity and of the angels, and their participation in the mysterious blessing here bestowed on Mary’s parents.
It was explained to me here that the Blessed Virgin was begotten by her parents in holy obedience and complete purity of heart, and that thereafter they lived together in continence in the greatest devoutness and fear of God.
Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us.
(1) New Advent.com, "Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich," http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05406b.htm.
(2) Golden (Mercy) Gate, http://www.sanctussimplicitus.com/1/category/st%20annee30389d231/1.html.