The name Anna means Favour or Grace. Anna in the New Testament is same as Hannah in the Old Testament. Only Luke the Evangelist tells the story of Anna. In a few words Luke tells a lot about Anna.
Anna was the daughter of Phanuel. The name of her husband is not given in the Gospel. He died young after seven years of their married life. Anna like her father Phanuel was of the tribe Asher, a lost tribe of Israel. Anna must have been a popular name given to girl child in the biblical time as it is today. In our times there are thousands and lakhs of Christian women called Anna, Anne, Anita, Annakutty, Annette, etc.
Luke tells us that Anna was a prophetess. We have similar prophetesses in the Old Testament like Mosess sister Miriam (Exod. 15, 20), Deborah (Jud 4, 4) and Huldah (2 Kgs. 22, 14). But Luke does not tell us why Anna is called a prophetess.
Prophets and prophetesses are persons through whom God communicated his message to the people. They are given the power to know events before and after. Anna may be considered a prophetess in the line of prophets and prophetess who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah through generation after generation. Spending her life in the Temple and reading and meditating on the Jewish Scripture, the Old Testament, Anna must have been full of Old Testament prophesies about Christ The Messiah. So she must have been able to recognize in the first born son of Mary, like the God-fearing man Simeon, A light to reveal Gods will to the gentiles and bring glory to the people of Israel. (Lk 2, 32).
Anna was an old woman of great age. Luke tells us that she was now eight-four years old. Bible scholars say that it could mean that she was now either 84 yearsold or she was a widow for 84 years. If she is widow for 84 years, then we can add her married life of 7 years plus about 15 years before her marriage making her age more than 100 years! She had grown old in the service of the Temple.
Anna was a widow. Widows in Jewish tradition as in Christianity are honourable people. St. Paul in his letter to Timothy tells him to Show respect for widows who really are all alone (1 Tim 5, 3).
Perhaps St. Paul must have in his mind the prophetess Anna when he wrote to Timothy that, A widow who is all alone, with no one to take care of her, has placed her hope in God and continues to pray and ask him for his help night and day (1 Tim. 5,5).
Anna lost her husband at an young age. Spending time in the temple she found God in her heart in the place of her husband. So as the Psalmist says her only desire might have been to spend all the days of her life in Temple, the special dwelling place of God. So Luke says, She never left the Temple (Lk 2, 37).
How did Anna spend her days and nights in the Temple? Luke says, day and night she worshipped God, fasting and praying. Fasting and praying are two devotional practices, which Christianity has inherited from the Jewish religion. Anna as a true Jew was doing just that.
Another devotional practice of Anna was thanking God for the many blessings God has deigned to shower on her and the whole humanity. She thanked God for the child when she saw the parents bringing their child Jesus into the Temple. She was eagerly looking forward to the day of the Messiah coming to the Temple. She recognized in the child Jesus, the Messiah and she promptly thanked God for giving her the grace to see the Messiah.
At the instant of seeing the child Jesus, she also became the first missionary to proclaim him to people around. Luke says, She spoke about the child to all who were waiting for God to set Jerusalem free (Lk 2, 38).
Anna spent the whole life of her widowhood in the Temple. But now as a centurian she has a new job. She is the first missionary of Jesus, the Messiah and Anna spoke about him to one and all that she met. She must have spoken to all the Jewish people who came to worship in the Temple. Annas faith, prayer and fasting have been ambly rewarded as she dawned the mantle of a missionary proclaiming the Incarnation of Jesus to all who looked for the Messiah in Jerusalem.