31May 31 May. The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

1st Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-18

A hymn of joy to God my Saviour

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.

Gospel: Luke 1:39-56

The Visitation, culminating in the joyful Magnificat

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 it 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 fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour 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.


Rejoicing in God our Saviour

The Visitation of Our Lady to Saint Elizabeth is celebrated in this modified homily-excerpt from the Venerable Bede (early 8th century), used in the Divine Office of Readings for May 31st. He explains why the Magnificat is used in the church’s prayer.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” With these words Mary first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God’s universal favours, bestowed unceasingly on the human race. When we devote all our thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, we proclaim God’s greatness. Our observance of God’s commands, too, shows that we have God’s power and greatness always at heart. Our spirit rejoices in God our saviour and delights in the mere recollection of his creator who gives us hope for eternal salvation.

“Rejoicing in God my Saviour”..These words can apply to all of God’s creations, but apply especially to the Mother of God. She alone was chosen for that honour, and she burned with spiritual love for the son she so joyously conceived. Above all other saints, she alone could truly rejoice in Jesus, her saviour, for she knew that he who was the source of eternal salvation would be born in time in her body, in one person both her own son and her Lord.

“The Almighty has done great things for me.” Mary attributes nothing to her own merits. She refers all her greatness to the gift of the one whose essence is power and whose nature is greatness, for he fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in him. And she did well to add: “holy is his name,” to warn those who heard, and indeed all who would receive his words, that they must believe and call upon his name. For they too could share in everlasting holiness and true salvation according to the words of the prophet: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Therefore it is an excellent and fruitful custom of holy church that we should sing Mary’s hymn at the time of evening prayer. By meditating upon the incarnation, our devotion is kindled, and by remembering the example of God’s Mother, we are encouraged to lead a life of virtue. Such virtues are best achieved in the evening. We are weary after the day’s work and worn out by our distractions. The time for rest is near, and our minds are ready for contemplation.

Showing the way of faith and love

Part of Elizabeth’s greeting of Mary in today’s gospel has made its way into the prayer that we know as the Hail Mary, “of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth declares Mary blessed because she is the mother of the Lord. Elizabeth goes on to declare Mary blessed because of her faith, “blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” It was because of her faith that she became the mother of God’s Son. It was her surrender in faith to God’s call, “let it be to me according to your word,” that ensured she would become the mother of the Lord. We may not all be able to imitate Mary’s motherhood, but we can imitate her faith, which was what really defined her. Paul in his letter to the Galatians speaks of “faith working through love” or faith which expresses itself in love. That was the kind of faith Mary had; her visit to Elizabeth was her faith expressing itself in love. This is the same mature faith that we are all called to, “the faith that shows itself in love.” Mary shows us the way to such a faith. [MH]

One Response

  1. Soline Humbert

    A woman’s homily (yes!) on this private meeting between two women on the edge of society and of the religious establishment when God’s plan and purpose for the world was first revealed. Then and now.
    ….”And then there’s Mary. Not Mary the mother, as we will meet her next week, but Mary the young Galilean woman, newly pregnant, who travels more than halfway across her country to visit and share good news with her friend Elizabeth. This Mary is Mary the prophet, Mary the proclaimer. I call her Mary the prophet because her life follows the patterns of the lives of the prophets of Israel. You may remember the general pattern: God calls the prophet. The prophet says, “Here I am, Lord.” God says, “Listen, here’s what I want.” And in every case, God’s will for the prophet involves a particular role within the community of believers and some kind of proclamation of who God is for this community.
    And then the prophet puts up a fight. Jeremiah says he’s too young. Moses protests that he is slow of speech. Amos argues that he is only a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. Jonah doesn’t say anything; he just runs away. Now Mary – Mary has basically the same thing happen to her, and she does ask a minor question about how this sign from God, this birth, can happen when she has no husband (she is logical!). But she doesn’t run off or avoid the call; in fact, she run toward someone to begin proclaiming what she knows to be true. And that someone is … Elizabeth, an older woman willed with new life and new hope, who is also a proclaimer of good news, a bearer of revelation.

    These women are clear and strong and they articulate God’s message with no ambiguities, no ambivalence.

    Enter into that Gospel scene. There is something new and different happening in this encounter between the two women. What goes on in this scene is a proclamation of cosmic proportions: a revelation of who God is, what God has done, what God is capable of going, and how the world has begun to change. But here is a different kind of prophecy – a whole different setting. We have, not a man addressing a crowd in the marketplace or preaching in a religious assembly, but two pregnant women having a conversation in the intimate setting of a house in the hills. That’s where God chooses to have the revelation happen. That’s where our scripture and our church show us that God’s revelation is proclaimed today.

    And what a revelation it is.

    Remember what Mary says in this Gospel: God is doing mighty things for lowly people. A woman will be called blessed forever, though she lives in a world where men rule. The mighty are deposed from their thrones. The poor and the hungry are not just satisfied, they are heard and remembered.

    I think this woman is talking about a revolution.

    …You may have noticed that in Mary’s song, the Magnificat, the God who is the originator of this revolution is spoken of as faithful, as one who fulfills promises, who is there from age to age, from generation to generation. The Scripture today is full of newness; it is also filled with language about faithfulness and solid promises and endurance and continuity.

    … Mary and Elizabeth invite us to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in new and different places. To change our views of the “where” and “how” of God’s revelation. One of the interesting things about the Synod of Bishops in Rome a couple of weeks ago, which some noticed and some didn’t, is that it became evident that the center of gravity in our church is shifting –from Europe and North America to the Southern Hemisphere: to countries where over half the world’s Catholics now live, to people who are mostly poor, mostly brown and black and tan, mostly young. They are blessing us with new insights into our church and our world. Mary… who sings of the world turned upside down, invites us to see God in new places: to hear the voices and welcome the insights of the lowly; of those who live on the other side of town or on the wrong side of the tracks; of the most poor; of women; of the people of the Southern hemisphere; of the very young; and of the very old; of all the forgotten and marginal ones in church and society who are, in God’s scheme of things, at the heart, at the center, of the revolution of Jesus.

    Mary and Elizabeth invite us to change the way we think about prophecy and revelation, to understand that the good news is revealed in settings where we least expect it. The prophet Micah talks about this also in today’ s readings; if it can happen in Bethlehem, it can happen here, and it can happen to you and to me.

    The powerful, joyful, revolutionary message from God about the world being changed and filled with grace is proclaimed –where? In a house, probably in a kitchen conversation between two pregnant women. I think this says something to us about our kitchen conversations, and our workshops and offices and classrooms and bedrooms and boardrooms, and all the places which we don’t think of as places of revelation and revolution, but which are.

    This scene also invites us to sit with its mixture of the new and the old, and to examine, in our lives, the old and the new: the continuity of tradition, the age-old celebrations, the family patterns, the old promises. And the breaking in of the new, the parts of our lives where we can and must create new ways of being and proclaiming and celebrating.

    Most of all… Mary and Elizabeth invite us to spend our time with them with joyful hearts. This is no grimfaced revolution. This is the revolution of God who frees women to cry out and sing, the revolution of Jesus who is our peace, the revolution of the Spirit who speaks to us with power and grace, again and again, and who can make of us all bearers of hope and new life.”
    Jane R

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