31 May Visit of Mary the mother of Jesus to Elizabeth

31 May – The Visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth

When Mary, the mother of Jesus became pregnant with Jesus she was told by the Angel Gabriel: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month[1].”

The narrative continues as Mary goes to visit her cousin:
[2]…Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!”

The depiction of the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth was painted by Roger van der Weyden in the 15C.  It shows them meeting, their hands on each other’s stomachs highlighting their pregnancies.  Elizabeth the older woman and Mary the younger – her hair unbound as a sign of her virginity.  The man in the door way of the house, possibly Zacharias, the husband of Elizabeth who was struck dumb because he didn’t believe the Angel Gabriel’s message[3].

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

As the two women met Mary sang a song of praise, The Magnificat:
“My soul glorifies the Lord  and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name. 

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,  just as he promised our ancestors.”

The Magnificat is regularly sung as the Gospel Canticle at Evening Prayer.

The meeting of Mary and Elizabeth is only recorded in Luke’s Gospel.  Dr K E Bailey states that when Luke identifies “… Mary as the author of the Magnificat he indirectly presents her as a teacher of theology, ethics, and social justice for all his readers! The critical discussion about the composition of the Magnificat is known to me.  Yet irrespective of one’s view regarding sources and authorship, Luke presents Mary as the singer of this song and thus as a teacher of the readers of his Gospel[4].  Bailey’s conclusion is that Luke’s Gospel witnesses to the fact that in the early church women such as Mary could teach theology to men.

Collect for the Visitation

Mighty God,
by whose grace Elizabeth rejoiced with Mary
and greeted her as the mother of the Lord:
look with favour on your lowly servants
that, with Mary, we may magnify your holy name
and rejoice to acclaim her Son our Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

The Virgin Blachernitissa, Istanbul

[1] Lk 1: 36 CEB

[2] Lk 1:39-56 CEB

[3] Lk 1:20

[4] K. E. Bailey, ‘Women in the New Testament: A Middle Eastern Cultural View’ Theology Matters 6 No 1 (2000) p2