Today is the feast of the Visitation, which celebrates the visit of Mary, just after the Annunciation, to her cousin Elizabeth, who despite her advanced age was soon to be the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:39.56).
But in all honesty, it is a story, even with the telling of John leaping in his mother’s womb and then Elizabeth being overcome by the Holy Spirit, that quite frankly has not in the past impacted me in the least. Maybe it has something to do with not being a mother. Maybe it has something to do with coming out of a Vatican II household with no sisters that did not focus much attention of Mary, the Rosary, or Marian feasts.
But that lack of appreciation for the depth of what surrounds the Visitation changed after my reading and rereading and study of Luke’s gospel account and trying to reflect on how it relates to my life.
A little background first. The present date of the feast, according to Franciscan Media Books Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons & Feasts, was set in 1969 in order that it fall appropriately after the March 25 observance of the Annunciation of the Lord and before the June 24 birthday of John the Baptist.
Elizabeth greets Mary with the words that are the second part of the Hail Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). In response, Mary offers a prayer which is known today as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55): “My soul magnifies the Lord… for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”
The celebration of the feast actually has Franciscan roots, with the order observing it in the 13th century and St. Bonaventure recommending its observance. Its inclusion in the Franciscan breviary is said to have spread it to many churches, before it was added to the Roman Calendar in the late 14th century.
Peter Chrysologus, as quoted by Father Peter John Cameron, OP, in the Servant Books Mysteries of the Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady’s Graces, says of the significance of the Visitation: “Oh man, divinity comes in contact with you…it is aflame now with such great love for you.”
And it is the sense of God’s presence in our lives that now makes the story come alive for me. Mary is able to teach us something about acceptance of God’s will in our lives and then suggests that the way to experience God is through humility and gratitude for all of the blessings we have. Acceptance, humility, and gratitude – a truly holy trinity of how to approach and then be a welcome place for God to reside and for us show God’s presence to others.
Other books on Mary from Franciscan Media include: Karen Edmisten’s Through the Year with Mary: 365 Reflections (including one on the Visitation), Chris Padgett’s Wholly Mary: Mother of God and Father Alfred McBride’s Holding Jesus: Reflections on Mary the Mother of God, and, to be released this fall, the Catholic Update Guide to Mary.
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Caption top: The visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth is depicted in a wall painting at the Church of the Visitation in Jerusalem. (CNS photo from Crosiers)