Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Second Joyful Mystery

The Visitation

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
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.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (1:39-56)
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,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
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."
And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
The Gospel of the Lord.
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.

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)
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!

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):

  • Luke begins his narrative by telling us that, shortly after the Annunciation, "Mary set out and went" to see Elizabeth. In 2 Samuel 6:1-2, we read of how David gathered the chosen men of Israel and they "set out and went" to bring the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem.

  • When Mary arrives and greets Elizabeth, the babe in Elizabeth's womb "leaped for joy" (Luke 1:44, cf. v.41). In 2 Samuel, we see "King David leaping and dancing before the Lord" (vv. 14-16), using a very similar phrase in the Greek to that which Luke employs of John the Baptist.

  • Moreover, in telling Mary about John's leaping, Elizabeth "exclaimed with a loud cry" (v. 42), echoing the "shouting" of David and the people before the Ark (2 Sam 6:15). This is even more striking when we consider that the phrase Luke uses for "exclaimed" is found nowhere else in the New Testament, and in the Septuagint Old Testament, the phrase is used only five times--and each time it is used in reference to the Ark of the Covenant and the people's joy at having God's presence among them!

  • In this loud voice, Elizabeth asks, "And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?" (v. 43), a question that David asks almost verbatim in 2 Samuel 6:9, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?" It is almost the exact same question, replacing "ark" with "mother".

  • Finally, we see Mary staying with Elizabeth--Mary, whose greeting brought the blessing of the Holy Spirit--and after three months, she returns to her home (v. 56). When terror strikes King David at the death of Uzzah, he leaves the Ark of the Covenant at the home of Obed-Edom (in what would be "a Judean town in the hill country," cf. Luke 1:39). Three months later, David hears that the household of Obed-Edom has been blessed by the Ark's presence there, and so he brings it the rest of the way to Jerusalem.

  • 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.)


    Hidden One said...

    As a postscript to my last comment on the first post... it is, for the record, posts like this which increase the likelihood that I will get back into this devotion.

    Gregory said...

    And, as I said in my comments on the last post, that's precisely why I'm doing them.

    suneal said...

    Hi Gregory,

    You said the following;

    "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."

    I was wondering, could you explain exactly why you used the word "mediation" here and what you are intending that word to imply, either here or later. I note you said "first act of." I suppose there is then a second, third, to come later that you will refer to?

    If all you imply above is the "act of" bringing Jesus into the world or in this case to Elizabeth (physically and locally) then might I suggest you use another term other than one loaded with theological weight and significance and specifically tied to the mediatorial work of Calvary, which Christ alone is worthy of receiving.

    Furthermore, after the birth of Christ, there is no hint in Scripture of Mary bringing Jesus to anyone else. So that whole concept was a very contemporaneous one, taking place primarily as she carried Christ in her womb. Do you agree with that?


    Gregory said...

    "Mediate": From the Latin "media" or way. Thus, to make a way, to bring to.

    No, I am not going to change my word choice on this point.

    Christ's Mediatorial act of the Cross (which, contrary to what you asserted in your comment on the last mystery, which I will address at greater length when I have more time, did not begin nor end simply at the Cross itself) was a mediation of salvation between us and God. That is, through Christ, we have covenantal access to the Father.

    Mary's mediation, and that of ours, for that matter, is a secondary one--that is, we bring people to Christ, the One Mediator. We cannot bring people all the way to God the Father, into a full and right standing. Only Christ can do that. But we can bring people to Christ, through our proclamation of the Word, through our prayers, through our charitable acts, etc.

    Mary very literally brought Jesus to Elizabeth in her womb--a foreshadowing of the way in which she will bring Him to others (or others to Him) through her actions (like at the Wedding at Cana, for a biblical example), or through her prayers for us in heaven, or through her proclamation of the Word (again, a biblical example would be the First Pentecost, at which she was present, at which she received the Holy Spirit, and at which then she went out glorifying God with the other 120 people present. That her mediation in this case wasn't exclusive doesn't nullify my point) both in her physical lifetime, and in the many historic occasions in which she has appeared to persons in order to call them to repentance.

    That "Mediation" is loaded with such "theological weight and significance" as you suggest is only because of the way the term has been misinterpreted by Protestant exegetes to deny the mediatorial role of Mary and the saints, and of us as fellow-believers and those who proffer the Gospel to the world.

    In fact, the very passage that Protestants love to use to support this eisegesis is 1 Timothy 2:5, but the context of that passage clearly indicates our own mediatorial role when Paul exhorts us to intercede one for another, and for civil and religious leaders, and everyone else. Intercessor and Mediator are synonyms--which is how the Catholic Church has always understood the terms.

    Thus, Christ, according to 1 Tim 2, mediates between us and God, and we mediate between others and Christ. There is no contradiction.

    God bless

    Hidden One said...

    Don't have time to get myself up to date on anything, but this background is very harsh on the eyes. So bright!

    Gregory said...

    Mea culpa!
    I defined "media" as way, when it's "middle". The rest of the definition stands, however--or is even accented by the correct definition of "media."

    As for the colour scheme, it's liturgically in honour of Christ the King, and will be up for the week leading to Advent (when it will change again). You're right, though. It is hideously bright. I'll try to temper it before it reappears at Christmas...