Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


Feast of
the Visitation

 

 


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 1 the Feast of St. John the Baptist 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. The Catena Aurea attributes to a "Greek Expositor" the following words about St. John, as an infant in Elizabeth's womb, recognizing the Savior:

For the Prophet sees and hears more acutely than his mother, and salutes the chief of Prophets; but as he could not do this in words, he leaps in the womb, which was the greatest token of his joy. Who ever heard of leaping at a time previous to birth? Grace introduced things to which nature was a stranger. Shut up in the womb, the soldier acknowledged his Lord and King soon to be born, the womb’s covering being no obstacle to the mystical sight.

It was at the Visitation that 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 what this Feast reveals about Mary and who she is is even more wondrous. 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. 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! And as you do, be inspired by Bach's Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147, written in honor of the Visitation. Note that the gorgeous "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (Jesus bleibet meine Freude) ends this cantata:


See also the Queenship of Mary (31 May).



Reading
by St. Ambrose


"And Mary, rising up in those days, set out hastily for the mountain, for the city of Judah, and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elizabeth. "

It is normal for anyone who wants to be believed to provide reasons to believe. So the angel who announced the mysteries, to make him believe by a precedent, he announced to Mary, a virgin, the maternity of an old and sterile woman, thus showing that God can all that he please. As soon as she had learned of it, Mary, not because of a lack of faith in the prophecy, not out of uncertainty of this announcement, not out of doubt about the precedent provided, but in the joy of her desire, to fulfill a pious duty, in the eagerness of joy, went to the mountains. From now on filled with God, could she not rise hastily to the heights? Slow calculations are foreign to the grace of the Holy Spirit. Learn also, pious women, how eager you are to testify to your relatives near being mothers. Marie, until then, lived alone in the strictest retreat; it has not been retained either to appear in public by virginal modesty, nor of its design by the escarpments of the mountains, nor of the service to be rendered by the length of the road. Towards the heights the Virgin hastens, the Virgin who thinks to serve and forgets her pain, whose charity is strength and not sex; she leaves her house and goes. Learn, virgins, not to run the houses of others, not to hang out in the squares, not to engage in conversations on public roads. Marie lingers at home, rushes on the road. She remained at her cousin's for three months; for, having come to render service, she had this service at heart; she remained for three months, not for the pleasure of being in a foreign home, but because he disliked her from showing herself often outside.

 You have learned, virgins, the delicacy of Mary; learn his humility. She comes as a relative to her relative, as a younger sister to her elder sister; and not only does she come, but she is the first to salute; it is fitting that the more chaste is a virgin, the more humble she is; that she knows how to honor her elders, that she be mistress of humility, the one who makes profession of chastity.

Here again there is a motive of piety, there is even a doctrinal teaching: it must indeed be remarked that the superior comes to the inferior to help the inferior: Mary to Elizabeth, Christ to John; as well, later, to consecrate the baptism of John, the Lord came to this baptism (Matt., III, 13).

And immediately the blessings of the arrival of Mary and the presence of the Lord manifest themselves: for "when Elizabeth heard the salvation of Mary, the child shuddered in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. ". Notice the choice and precision of each word. Elizabeth first heard the voice, but John was the first to feel grace: the latter, according to the order of nature, heard, the latter shuddered under the effect of mystery; she perceived the arrival of Mary, that of the Lord: the woman that of the woman, the child that of the child. They speak grace; they realize it inside and approach the mystery of mercy for the benefit of their mothers; and, by a double miracle, the mothers prophesy under the inspiration of their children. The child shuddered, the mother was filled; the mother was not fulfilled before her son, but the son, once filled with the Holy Spirit, also filled his mother.

Jean shuddered, the spirit of Mary also shuddered. At the thrill of John, Elizabeth is satisfied; for Mary, we do not learn that she was (then) filled with the Spirit, but that her spirit shudders: for He who can not be understood acted in his Mother in a way that was not understandable.

Finally this one is filled after having conceived, this one before conceiving.

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed the fruit of your womb! And how is it that the Mother of my Lord comes to me? "

The Holy Spirit knows his word; He never forgets it, and the prophecy is realized not only in the miraculous facts, but in all rigor and property of terms. What is this fruit of the womb, except He from whom it was said, "Behold, the Lord giveth the inheritance of children, the reward of the fruit of the womb" (Ps. 126,3)? In other words, the Lord's inheritance is children, the price of this fruit that comes from Mary's womb. He is the fruit of the breast, the flower of the stem, of which Isaiah prophesied well: "A stem," said he, "will rise from the stock of Jesse, and a flower spring from this stalk" (Is., XI, 1): the stock is the race of the Jews, the stem Mary, the flower of Mary the Christ, who, like the fruit of a good tree, according to our progress in virtue, now flourishes, now fruiting in us, now reborn by the resurrection that brings life to his body.

"And how is it that the Mother of my Lord come to me? It is not ignorance that makes her speak - she knows well that there is grace and operation of the Holy Spirit that the mother of the prophet be saluted by the Mother of the Lord for the benefit of her child - but she recognizes that it is the result not of a human merit but of divine grace; so she says: "How is it given to me", that is to say, what happiness comes to me, that the Mother of my Lord comes to me! I admit to being there for nothing. How is it given to me? by what justice, what actions, for what merits? These are not the customary steps between women "that the Mother of my Lord come to me". I sense the miracle, I recognize the mystery: the Mother of the Lord is fruitful of the Word, full of God.

"For, behold, when your salvation was heard in my ears, the child trembled with joy in my bosom. And blessed are you to have believed! "

You see that Mary did not doubt, but believed, and thereby obtained the fruit of faith. "Blessed," said she, "who have believed? But you too blessed, who have heard and believed! for every soul that believes, conceives and engenders the word of God and recognizes his works. May all of you have the soul of Mary to glorify the Lord; that in all lies the spirit of Mary to exult in God. If there is corporeally only a Mother of Christ, by faith Christ is the fruit of all: for every soul receives the Word of God, provided that without spot, preserved from vices, it keeps chastity in purity without attack. Every soul, therefore, who achieves this state magnifies the Lord, as the soul of Mary magnified the Lord, and as his spirit shuddered in the Savior God. The Lord is indeed magnified, as you have read elsewhere: "Magnify the Lord with me" (Ps. 33, 4): not that the human word can add anything to the Lord, but because it grows in us; because "Christ is the image of God" (II Cor., IV, 4; Coloss., I, 15) and, therefore, the soul that does right and religious work magnifies this image of God, at the whose likeness she was created; hence, in magnifying her, she participates in her grandeur to a certain extent and finds herself elevated in it: she seems to reproduce in her this image by the brilliant colors of her good works, and as copy her by virtue.

Now the soul of Mary magnifies the Lord and his spirit trembles in God because, dedicated soul and spirit to the Father and the Son, she venerates with a pious love the one God, where all things come from, and the one Lord by whom are all things (see I. Cor., VIII, 6).

Follows the prophecy of Mary, whose fullness responds to the excellence of her person. And it is not without interest, it seems, that Elizabeth prophesies before the birth of John, Mary before that of the Lord. The salvation of men is already being sketched and outlined; for sin having begun with women, good, too, begins with women, so that women, in their turn, abandon effeminate manners, renounce their weakness, and the soul, which has no sex. Mary, ignorant of error, religiously applies herself to imitate her chastity.

"Marie stayed at home for three months and came back to her house. It is well that we are shown Mary rendering service and faithful to a mystical number: for kinship is not the only cause of this long stay, but also the profit of so great a prophet. Indeed, if the first entry has procured such a result that the salvation of Mary the child has shuddered in the breast, that the Holy Spirit has filled the mother of the child, what increments can we believe that such a space of time, the presence of St. Mary has earned him! "Marie stayed at home for three months. Thus the prophet received the anointing and, like a good athlete, was exercised from the maternal womb: for it was in preparation for a great struggle that his strength was being prepared.

At last Mary remained until the time of birth was fulfilled for Elizabeth. Now, if you take good care of it, you will find that it has never been noted except for the birth of the righteous; for "the days were fulfilled for the birth of Mary", "time was fulfilled" for the birth of Elizabeth, the time of life was fulfilled when the saints left the career of this life. Plenitude is for the life of the just, emptiness for the days of the wicked.



 
Footnote:
1 This Feast was moved to May 31 on the Novus Ordo calendar, which is the date of Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the traditional calendar. 


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