Happy feast day! Yes, on May 31 we celebrate the Visitation! Why May 31? Well, it’s between the feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and the John the Baptist’s feast day (July 24). And so, why not?
For those of you who may not know, this is the first meeting between Mary and Elizabeth after the Annunciation. See, during the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, is unexpectedly pregnant. And so Mary discerns that the Holy Spirit wants her to assist Elizabeth and rushes down to visit her… and help her of course! Here’s the gospel reading of the day:
39During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, 42cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”46 And Mary said:“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;47my spirit rejoices in God my savior.48For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.49The Mighty One has done great things for me,and holy is his name.50His mercy is from age to ageto those who fear him.51He has shown might with his arm,dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.52He has thrown down the rulers from their thronesbut lifted up the lowly.53The hungry he has filled with good things;the rich he has sent away empty.54He has helped Israel his servant,remembering his mercy,55according to his promise to our fathers,to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”56Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
A beautiful gospel, isn’t it? And so, it is fitting to illustrate this gospel with a beautiful artwork!
It’s a beautiful picture set in medieval Hungary and it really is beautiful the way all the details are drawn out. This is one of the featured works for the Hungarian National Gallery, and as you look at the details, you can see why!
Now, this feast day has been celebrated for a long time… it was first celebrated around the thirteenth century, some believe. But, while I was looking at the history, I was surprised as to why the day was originally dedicated to the Visitation. It’s due to the various factions that broke off from the Church!
And so, in this feast day of the Visitation, we pray especially for unity of the Church. Thus, we look to Mary, who embodies the Ark of the Covenant. And by that, I mean that she carries the very Word in her womb — Jesus Christ.
By the suggestion of God’s messenger, Gabriel, Mary traveled nearly 100 miles to meet with Elizabeth. And thus, she is able to share the God’s presence with Elizabeth, who recognizes the Lord at once. Just as King David danced in front of the Ark of the Covenant, Elizabeth exclaims out loud in joy that she has encountered God, and her baby leaps in the womb in joy!
And we pray that we allow others encounter the Lord through our Church, just as Mary allowed others to experience and glory in the Lord.