Mary and Elizabeth

If you are snowed in, you have time to indulge me, but even if you are scurrying around, I urge to take a few minutes to read Deacon Greg’s meaty homily on what we Catholics call “The Visitation,” – the moment in the Gospel where Mary, confronted by Gabriel and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, has gone to visit her elder kinswoman, Elizabeth, who was also with child. Writes Greg:

[Elizabeth] knew that she was greeting her Messiah.

Pope Benedict has written that the Visitation is more than just a trip into the country for a young girl from Nazareth.

As he explains, when Mary “set out in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth, she embarked on the world’s first Eucharistic procession. She carried Christ into the world. She was a living tabernacle. And so it is that her cousin became the first to experience Eucharistic adoration, and to share in the first Benediction. “Blessed are you,” she says to Mary. “Blessed is the fruit of your womb. Blessed are you who believed.” Three times, she speaks the word “Blessed.” I can’t help but be reminded of our own Benediction, when the bells ring three times, and then we chant the divine praises: “Blessed be God…”

Just as Elizabeth would be the mother of the voice crying in the wilderness – the voice preparing us for the Word – so here, she also gives voice to our own feelings of anticipation, and wonder, and hope.

“How does this happen to me?,” she asks. Any of us could ask the same question, as we kneel before the Eucharist — as we will in just a few moments — and behold, as Elizabeth did, our savior in our midst.

“How does this happen to me? Lord, I am not worthy…”

In Rumer Godden’s exquisite novel
In This House of Brede, there is a moment when Abbess Catherine, who has been elevated to that office in a time of unusual stress for the Brede Abbey, also contemplates this moment in the Gospel:

Every evening at Vespers in these days Abbess Catherine, as if echoing the Abbot’s words, thought, as the antiphon to the Magnificat was sung, of the Visitation, when the Virgin Mary, with the angel’s announcement beating in her heart, had gone “in hast,” as Saint Luke says, to visit her far older cousin. Why, wondered Abbess Catherine, did the theologians always teach -and we take it for granted – that Mary went simply to succour Elizabeth? Probably she did do that, but could it not also have been that she needed the wisdom and strength of an older woman? How wonderfully reassuring Elizabeth’s salutation must have been : “Whence is this that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” A recognition without be told, and Mary, as if heartened, touched into bloom by the warmth and honor of that recognition, had flowered into the Magnificat.

I love the juxtaposition of these two ideas, that Mary was “the first Eucharistic procession, carrying Christ to the world,” and that she is (within the context of that great and supernatural privilege) nevertheless seeking out a bit of human consolation and support.

Considered in this way, Mary is a prophecy of the Bride, the Church – containing the Body of Christ – but sustained and heartened by fellowship and outreach. Encountering and receiving Christ into one’s heart, soul and mind is at once a release and a charge -a saving and a responsibility; it is a moment when “everything is different” and yet we are still our faulty selves. Realizing this makes us both hopeful and a little unsettled, and so we seek out what is both familiar and good.

As with everything in scripture, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is packed with meaning and instruction. How good that in Advent we take the time to consider these “smaller” moments of scripture.

We Catholics must seem “Incarnation-fixated” to non-Catholics. In the Liturgy of the Hours, our Morning Prayer includes the Gospel Canticle of Zechariah (“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free”) and Vespers brings us the Magnificat. We begin and end the day recalling the very first moments of the New Testament.

In praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, we are rooted solidly in the beginning of the Gospels.

When we pray the Angelus, several times a day, we bring into sharp focus those incredible moments shared by Mary and Gabriel, when it is revealed that the God of Jacob is doing the unthinkable, and Incarnating – taking on the flesh and blood mortality of his own Creation. It is a prayer of profound wonder and gratitude, and it is fundamental to the rest of it, because it breaks the whole pageant of Salvation down to this unparalleled truth: We are so boundlessly beloved by the Creator, that he would surrender to us, in order to raise us to him. It is the mystery that any lover instinctively knows – that love, first and foremost, serves.

The Incarnation, the mystical wedding of heaven to earth, is a mystery one can stand at in awestruck wonder for all the days of one’s life, with comprehension only beginning.

It is getting late; Christmas is nearing. Deacon Greg says, of this wonderful season of preparing, which is Advent:

We still have a few days left to prepare for Christmas – and for Christ. We can never be worthy of him. But we can be ready.

King, Bridegroom, Self-Immolating Lover

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Mary and Elizabeth » The Anchoress | A First Things Blog --

  • Steve Bolettieri

    It is also important to comprehend that physically Mary is carrying the Divine cells of the Holy Child within Her. As science has discovered, women keep their children’s cells within them all the days of their lives. It’s called ‘microchimerism.’ Therefore, while Mary is not God or a goddess, She and She alone has the Eucharist constantly within Her; that, we believe, is the human reason (but, of course, the spiritual ones far out way these) for Her Immaculate Conception and Assumption. We talk about the implications of microchimerism in our article, ‘It’s in the DNA’: link Merry Christmas to all!

  • Bender

    taking on the flesh and blood mortality of his own Creation

    The near symbiotic relationship between Jesus and Mary, God and humanity, is one that really has not been explored much. Pope Benedict has touched on it with his various “God became small” homilies, but it is a concept worthy of much more reflection.

    That the God who depends on nothing and gives us life should depend upon humanity (Mary) to give Himself life and to sustain that life, that the Savior should need humanity to “save” Him, to feed Him, clothe Him, shelter Him, that the Son of God should turn to Mary for strength, for comfort — that He should turn to her — to us — to dry His tears and cradle Him, it is all a wonderful mystery.

    I really noticed this in the portrayal of Jesus and Mary in The Passion of the Christ. There, every time that Jesus was beaten down or in distress, He would turn and look to Mary, as if they had this unspoken conversation between them, and it was from her, from her strength and grace, from her love for Him and His love for her, that He would get up again and take more abuse.

    Like I said, theirs was a near symbiotic relationship — Mother of God, daughter of her Son.

    (As for Jesus DNA coursing through Mary’s veins, remember, it was Mary’s DNA before it was His. When one looks upon Jesus face, they must necessarily see Mary’s. When one receives His Body and Blood, they necessarily receive her body and blood. Blessed is she among women.)

  • Steve Bolettieri

    Bender: I agree with all your beautiful comments, but I think you might be missing the point regarding the DNA. For our Queen, it is, as science now states regarding the cells of any child, that for a woman, “A pregnancy lasts forever.” In other words, as you point out regarding the symbiotic relationship between Jesus and Mary, this is scientific “proof” (which we as believers don’t need but the secular world is in desperate need of, especially protestants) that you can NEVER separate Jesus from Mary. It is again, why we can confidently cry out to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus AND Mary. May Agnus Dei and His Mother always keep you and all who love Her in the safety of His Mother’s Immaculate Heart!

  • Cody

    Mr. Bolettieri: I like your theory. Although definitely not canon- science is so fickle- it helps explain certain aspects in the nature of God. Just as he lays specific rules in the old testiment preventing the mixing of meat and dairy, consuming in-between animals (i.e. Shellfish and Pork), he makes the Virgin both free from sin and a virgin. Considering that husband and wife also share cells, although a much smaller amount, that more ‘mixing’ than strictly necessary was avoided certainly seems to agree to previous actions. Naturally though, we must not make religion slave to science.

  • Jim Hicks

    For some reason, the Visitation has been much on my mind this Advent Season. I have looked at it from an angle I have not seen written so far.

    There was a lot going on in the life of young Mary. She was engaged and anticipating a wedding. Suddenly, a messanger tells her she will become pregnant before being with her husband-to-be. She apparently tells her beloved of her condition and he has certain options. Call her unfaithful and bring on the possibility of her being stoned to death, or a quiet separation (divorce), with her still being pregnant. In even the best of cases, tongues would be wagging!

    So, as Luke tells us, she gets out of town in a hurry. Of course she did! She ran to a relative who was also pregnant and could offer help and encouragement. But she also offered safety until Joseph could get everything settled at home. She had to get away for awhile.

    And an added benefit comes when her cousin offers confirmation of the messanger’s pronouncement that her child would be of the Holy Spirit.

    There seems to be a reluctance to say that Mary needed to run away for awhile. There is nothing shameful in that. A “retreat” is good for all of us.

    [I don't know if people are 'reluctant' to say that Mary left for her own safety and the safety of her baby...perhaps, like me, they've just never thought of it -admin]

  • Gayle Miller

    Snowed in but with Jingle Bell Java at hand so all is well. My luck, the roads will be clear enough to make the 51 mile northward trek to The District where all manner of mischief is afoot apparently – those congresscritters got some ‘splaining to do to the voters – if I can only get my front door open!

  • Pingback: The Wide Awake Cafe » “If Snowflakes were Kisses, I’d Blow you a Blizzard”

  • Bender

    There were other good reasons for Mary going to visit Elizabeth before she gave birth — so that John the Baptist might be sanctified in the womb (“the moment your greeting reached me, the baby in my womb leaped for joy”), as well as for Elizabeth to give testimony, and for the Old Testament to be joined to the New, the last of the OT prophets (John the Baptist) being joined to the NT Messiah from the very beginning.

  • Fr. Dan Gallaugher

    Here’s another homily for this Sunday (text and mp3) if the snowed-in are looking for one:

  • Bertha

    “Blessed are you who believed.”

    These are among my favorite words of scripture. Another version is, “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” Hearing “she” rather then “you” always sounds to me like Elizabeth was speaking collectively of all holy women of Israel who wrestled with the mystery of God: such as Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Judith, Esther. Mary is certainly included in that ancient heritage.

    When my husband and I struggled with infertility, I often found strength in Elizabeth’s faith. I imagined she also said, “yes, whatever you ask of me,” to God. At the Visitation, a woman who prayed, hoped, and yearned many years for a child, embraces a woman who is “surprisingly” pregnant. There is no bitterness in Elizabeth’s voice; and no arrogance in Mary, even as she proclaims, “All ages to come will call me blessed.”

    My baptismal name is a combination of Elizabeth and Mary, so the Visitation has always offered wonderful lessons and reflections for me. Thanks for a beautful post.

  • wayne

    I was unsaved at one time. My sin was no better or worse than anyones. Prayer is only heard by Christ. All else are just people.

  • dymphna

    I always thought that Mary figured that Elizabeth would have a pretty hard time since she was so old and could use a hand around the house.