On Monday our church celebrates “The Visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth”. This visit has always fascinated me in many ways.
First of all, “Why”? It is believed that Elizabeth lived in Ein Karem which is some 90 miles from Nazareth. This was a very long and dangerous voyage in those days, let alone for a pregnant woman. The scripture says that Mary “set out with haste”. There must have been a very close relationship between Elizabeth and her cousin Mary. I am sure that Mary knew immediately who she had to tell her news to, so off she went quickly.
Secondly, Mary’s arrival is so special and out of the ordinary. As she arrives in the house of Zechariah, it is not Zechariah who greets her, but Elizabeth herself. This was not the ordinary custom. Hospitality in ancient times was a sacred duty. Guests were seen as having been sent by God. The traditional Aramaic greeting was “Peace be with you”. However here we are told that Elizabeth “was filled with the Holy Spirit.” So again, quite different than the custom, we read that Elizabeth; “exclaimed with a loud cry ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…’” Mary is blessed and so is her baby. What a reception.
Next, Elizabeth has both a question and a statement. “And why has this happened to me…” she says. Elizabeth is feeling particularly honoured with Mary’s visit. Then Elizabeth says; “that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” How would Elizabeth know this? She knew her baby was to speak of the coming of the Lord, but did she know that Mary was pregnant? I believe this is a prophetic statement made in faith. Elizabeth has welcomed her cousin Mary, but now, has also welcomed the mother of her Lord.
Then we hear that the child in Elizabeth’s womb “leaped for joy”. Again I feel this is another prophetic moment. It is John the Baptist, in utero, already announcing the arrival of Jesus, also in utero, to the world. Amazing.
Finally, it is Mary’s turn to return the greeting, and she does so by saying her Magnificat. Both Elizabeth and Mary have been blessed as they begin their visit together.
May peace be with us all.
— Ralph Leavitt
image: Mariotti Albertinelli, The Visitation of St. Elizabeth to the Virgin Mary. (Yes, the title does get it backwards.)