Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (1:39-56)
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." And Mary said,The Gospel of the Lord."My soul magnifies the Lord,And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
On its surface, the story of the Visitation seems like a quaint meeting of two pregnant cousins in a beautiful display of family love and blessing--but even the surface of the story holds deep insights. And yet, there's even more to it than meets the eye!
Very shortly after the Annunciation of Gabriel, Mary makes her way from Nazareth down to Judea--rather a bit of a trek, and Luke doesn't bother to tell us who she went with. However, if we assume that the Church's traditional date of March 25 for the Annunciation is correct, then it's very possible she made the trip on the way to Jerusalem for the Passover or Pentecost. As such, she'd have no want of companions for her journey.
I remember reading some scholarly biblical notes that pointed out an apparent discrepancy between John's discussion of John the Baptist's claim to not know Jesus, and Luke's claim that they were relatives, and how there seems to be a disconnect in the traditions. But if we read Luke's account, it seems like, while Elizabeth and Mary were related, they weren't all that close. After all, you'd think someone other than an Angel would break the news to you that your elderly cousin is miraculously pregnant--and that they would have done so before six months had gone by! Since that wasn't the case with Mary, it seems that they weren't all that close, and so it's not overly expected that John the Baptist would have grown up together with Jesus. Whatever the case, it's incidental to our reflection.
For now, let's explore the mystery of the story itself:
Mary journeys to her cousin, Elizabeth, and in so doing, performs her first act of mediation. That is, as she carries Jesus in her womb, she very literally brings Him to her relative. That this isn't some simplistic way of looking at things, Luke tells us very plainly--that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant in her womb leapt for joy, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit! That is, the Holy Spirit was bestowed upon mother and child when Mary brought Jesus to them! This act itself fulfilled the word of Gabriel to Zacharias that John the Baptist would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb (Luke 1:15)! This bestowal of the Holy Spirit, then, was a foreshadowing of Mary's role as advocate, bringing us to her Son, Jesus.
This bestowal of the Holy Spirit prompts Elizabeth to bless Mary, giving us the words to the second part of the Hail Mary prayer: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" (Luke 1:42). Elizabeth continues and concludes with the reason that Mary is blessed: "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord" (Luke 1:45). Mary is our model of faith and obedience to the will of God! And she is the sign to us that when we are obedient as well, we will be blessed by God. This verse points us to another truth. I often hear some Protestants try to minimise Mary's importance by citing Jesus' words in Luke 11:27-28:
While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!"Jesus is not here diminishing Mary's blessedness, but affirming it! The echo to Elizabeth's blessing is clear. The real reason that Mary was blessed wasn't because she bore and nursed Jesus, but because she was obedient to God, in faith, which preceeded and caused Jesus' birth. It is Mary's perfect faith that makes her "most blessed among all women" as the New Jerusalem Bible puts it.
Now, I said before, and I'm sticking to it, that I don't want this to be an apologetic series of posts--at least, not in my usual more polemical fashion, so that's all I'll say on that subject. Moving on, then, we see Mary's response to Elizabeth's blessing: The Magnificat. Elizabeth has just called Mary the most blessed of all the women of the world, and instead of getting a swelled head about this, or in any way thinking of herself as someone important, Mary sings out a beautiful hymn of praise, blessing, and faith to God! This again points us to a principle truth regarding Our Lady: any time we praise or bless or honour her, she takes our praise, perfects it by adding it to her own, and gives it wholly and completely to God.
St. Louis de Montfort has this to say:
Lastly, you never think of Mary without Mary thinking of God for you. You never praise or honour Mary without Mary joining you in praising and honouring God. Mary is entirely relative to God. Indeed I would say that she was relative only to God, because she exists uniquely in reference to him.We don't need to fear a true and proper devotion to our Blessed Mother, thinking that it will somehow keep us from God! On the contrary, she herself leads us to God. She herself brings Jesus to us, and us to Jesus. She helps us to have her own perfect faith--that faith that made her blessed, and with which we are ourselves blessed with a more intimate relationship with her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ!
She is an echo of God, speaking and repeating only God. If you say "Mary" she says "God". When St. Elizabeth praised Mary calling her blessed because she had believed, Mary, the faithful echo of God, responded with her canticle, "My soul glorifies the Lord." What Mary did on that day, she does every day. When we praise her, when we love and honour her, when we present anything to her, then God is praised, honoured and loved and receives our gift through Mary and in Mary. (True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, 6.225)
But as I said, this mystery itself is simply what lies on top of the Visitation. And truthfully, it would be enough to stop here and digest that. However, in the last meditation, I said that the "notion of Mary as the New Ark will frequently come up in our meditations, and I will delve into more detail in the next Mystery, that of the Visitation." Since this is our meditation on the Visitation, I cannot move on until I discuss the fact that in Luke's narrative, he subtly reveals to us that Mary is, indeed, the New Ark of the Covenant.
Luke reveals this to us mainly by way of paralleling his Visitation narrative with the 2 Samuel 6 narrative of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem, specifically using the same Greek phrases that appear in the Septuagint OT that his readers would have been familiar with. In fact, the parallels are often so striking, that I sometimes wonder if Luke's detailing this account was done for the sole purpose of showing us the Mary/Ark parallel.
Let's look at the parallels in detail (I am indebted to Scott Hahn's book, Hail, Holy Queen, for first revealing these insights to me):
Now, obviously, the stories do not parallel each other one hundred percent. They were, after all, two entirely different events. But the parallels that are there are so thickly woven into the fabric of Luke's brief narrative that they are inescapable. And they serve to show what we said in our last meditation, and will say again before we've finished our Rosary together: that Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant, bearing in her womb Jesus, who brings us salvation through the New Covenant in His Blood.
Let us then honour Mary with the words of Elizabeth in the Hail Mary: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus!" knowing that, every time we do so, she transforms our humble prayer into a glorious Magnificat to the glory of the Triune God! Let us also rejoice with a loud voice that, through her obedience, God has come to dwell in the presence of His people in the person of Christ! And let us bring our blessing in Christ's name to all the people we meet today. Amen.
(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)