Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, that day when the pregnant Mary travels from Nazareth to Bethany in the hill country to visit her older cousin Elizabeth. Mary seeks support, advice, perhaps a shoulder to cry on—for she must have worried what people would think, seeing her condition. Wouldn’t they be scandalized? And what does it all mean?
Elizabeth, seeing Mary approach along the road, rushes out to greet her.
To Mary’s delight, Elizabeth—long childless, and probably approaching menopause—is also expecting a child. Elizabeth’s son John will be born several months before Jesus’ birth in the stable at Bethlehem.
And to the surprise of both women, John (in the womb) recognizes his cousin Jesus (in the womb), and leaps for joy. Not just the little “bump” of an unborn child against its mother’s abdomen, this “leap” is an exuberant greeting to the coming Messiah. John—who will later preach in the desert, foretelling the coming Messiah—dances in Elizabeth’s womb just as King David once danced before the Ark of the Covenant. And the parallel is fitting—for Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, carrying in her womb the Christ Child.
It is a beautiful pro-life witness, an affirmation of the dignity and personhood of the unborn child.
The words spoken by these two strong women are most familiar to us: For the words of Elizabeth to Mary will become the second sentence of the Hail Mary:
“Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
Mary responds joyfully; always humble, she giving thanks and praise to God for the great mystery which is unfolding in her womb. Mary’s greeting to Elizabeth is known as the Magnificat, and is recited in the Church’s great prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, each evening.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.