What an easily-overlooked but beautiful Feast the Visitation is! Begun by St. Bonaventure among the Franciscans in A.D. 1263, it became a universal Feast in 1389, during the papacy of Urban VI.
This Feast commemorates what is the second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary: Our Lady’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with St. John the Baptist at the time. At the end of the Archangel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Our Lady that she will conceive, he tells her that her cousin, Elizabeth, an older woman thought barren, will also conceive. The story as told in the first chapter of Luke (verses 37-47 of this chapter form the Gospel reading for today), the words in italics being the prayer known as “The Magnificat”:
And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: Because no word shall be impossible with God.
And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb.
And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.
And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.
And Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house. Now Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come, and she brought forth a son.
It’s strange that this Feast should come after the Feast of the birth of St. John which we just celebrated eight days ago, but this is the day after the octave of his birthday and helps explain why his birth was so important. It was at the Visitation that St. John, along with his mother, were filled with the Holy Ghost, the cause of his being born without the stain of original sin. It is today that our Redeemer, Our Lady, and the one about whom Christ said “there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist” all came together, the three pure ones all born without sin after the Fall (of course, Christ and His mother were also conceived without sin).
But this Feast says something very profound about Mary and who she is. Compare how St. Luke describes Mary’s visit with how David’s visit to the Ark of the Covenant is described in II Kings (2 Samuel in some Bibles):
II Kings 6:2 And David arose and went, with all the people that were with him of the men of Juda to fetch the ark of God, upon which the name of the Lord of hosts is invoked, who sitteth over it upon the cherubims.
|Luke 1:39 And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda|
II Kings l 6:9 And David was afraid of the Lord that day, saying: How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?
|Luke 1:43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?|
II Kings 6:11 And the ark of the Lord abode in the house of Obededom the Gethite three months…
|Luke 1:56 And Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house…|
II Kings 6:16 And when the ark of the Lord was come into the city of David, Michol the daughter of Saul, looking out through a window, saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord [His Presence over the Ark]
|Luke 1:41 And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb.|
St. Luke clearly wants us to see Our Lady as the Ark of the New Covenant, the bearer the Word just as the Ark of the Old Covenant carried the tablets containing the ten words of God; the one who bore the Root of Jesse Who came back to life in three days, just as the Ark of the Old Covenant carried Aaron’s rod which sprouted; the one who bore the Bread of Life just as the Ark of the Old Covenant carried some of the manna that sustained the children of Israel in the desert. St. John the Evangelist wrote of this same Truth when he described his Heavenly vision in Apocalypse 11:19-12:1-5:
And the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of his testament was seen in his temple, and there were lightnings, and voices, and an earthquake, and great hail. And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered. And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems: And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne.
These verses and the words of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (a.k.a. Gregory of Neocaesarea, A.D. 213 – ca. 270) remind us who Mary is:
And thus she received the word, and in the due time of the fulfilment according to the body’s course she brought forth the priceless pearl. Come, then, ye too, dearly beloved, and let us chant the melody which has been taught us by the inspired harp of David, and say, “Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest; Thou, and the ark of Thy sanctuary.” For the holy Virgin is in truth an ark, wrought with gold both within and without, that has received the whole treasury of the sanctuary.
Pray the words of St. Athanasius and realize the depths of Mary’s beauty! Turn to her to intercede for us with her Son:
O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all, O Ark of the Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which Divinity resides.
Turn to Our Lady!
(source: Fish eaters)