The feast of the Visitation may seem like an odd holiday at first glance. It commemorates Mary’s visit to her relative, Elizabeth, recorded in Luke 1:39-56. That passage is also the Gospel reading for the Communion service that day. What is so special about this visit? Three prophecies are recorded in the encounter.
Elizabeth says of Mary “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The first sentence has been traditionally enshrined as part of the “Hail Mary” prayer popular in Western Catholic piety. The whole statement reveals Elizabeth’s great reverence for Mary on account of her motherhood of the Lord – God himself in the flesh. Elizabeth added this a couple verses later: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” So Mary’s faith in the Angel Gabriel’s message from God is also noted as a further reason to recognize Mary as blessed.
The second prophecy is non-verbal: “when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Elizabeth reveals that her own unborn baby discernibly moved at hearing the voice of Mary. Again this highlights the reverence with which Mary is approached. Furthermore, the baby will grow up to be known as St. John the Baptist, so this “leap” in the womb is actually the beginning of his prophetic ministry, pointing the way to Christ before he even knows what he’s doing. An important side-note for our own day is the reality of legitimate and meaningful life having already begun in the womb.
The third big prophecy here is verses 46-55, the Song of Mary, commonly known by its first word in Latin, Magnificat. Here Mary praises God and proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ, particularly in the language of the Old Testament prophets who spoke at length about the social and justice implications. Mary sees in her bearing of God the Son the fulfillment of God’s mercy, a show of his strength, his exaltation of the humble and meek, his filling of the hungry with good things, and his remembering of his promise to Abraham and all Israel. Interestingly, Mary also repeats Elizabeth’s double observation of her blessedness, adding a third pronouncement of blessing upon herself: “For behold, form now on, all generations will call me blessed.” She receives Elizabeth’s words as from God, which is affirmed by their recording in Sacred Scripture.
Thus this feast day brings before our attention the thrice-blessedness of Mary: first on account of her motherhood of God in the person of Jesus, second on account of her faith in God, and third on account of God’s “regard” for the “lowliness of his handmaiden” in choosing her to be what the Greeks call the Theotokos, or God-bearer.
We are invited, in this gospel text, to share with Elizabeth and “all generations” both in the veneration of Mary for these three reasons and also in imitating the pattern set forth: to place our utmost faith in God’s holy Word, and to rejoice in God’s “regard” for us in adopting us as sons. And although Mary’s motherhood of Christ is a unique relationship with Jesus that we cannot share, we do bear Christ in our hearts instead of our wombs. That spiritual closeness, thanks to the ministration of the Holy Spirit, invites us into a relationship of similar (if not identical) intimacy that Blessed Mary had with Jesus.