The Visitation of St. Elizabeth – Day of Mercy
“Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me” [Lk. 1:43].
It is not for us to know the unspeakable delight which ravished the soul of the Blessed Virgin while she was bearing her God in her chaste womb. She enjoyed a nearness to God of which no creature can have a just conception, and the Holy Ghost has not been pleased to reveal much of the blessedness of her interior life. We are to contemplate today one of her acts of charity, by which she was made the minister of grace to others, and by which God testified to the coming of His Son. Her cousin, St. Elizabeth, had conceived a child in her old age, and the circumstance was well known to the Blessed Virgin. The archangel Gabriel, who came to her on the glad mission, which had been the cause of all her joy, had been a messenger to Zachary, foretelling the birth of the forerunner of her son. And Zachary had been unable to tell of the heavenly vision; for the angel, to punish him for his doubt, and also to give a sign to his faith, had closed his lips until the prophecy should be accomplished. St. Elizabeth had conceived, and was now in the sixth month of her pregnancy, when our Lord incited His Mother to visit her for the manifestation of His power and glory. And “Mary rose up and went with haste into the mountainous country, to Hebron, a city of Juda.” It was the impulse of the Holy Ghost which she obeyed with alacrity. She entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth. This salutation was like a divine voice to her ears. The “infant leaped in her womb,” and she “was filled with the Holy Ghost.” The forerunner received strength to pay homage to the Messiah, and Elizabeth felt the presence, not of her cousin, but of the Mother of her God. She cried out with a loud voice. The Eternal Spirit spoke through her lips. “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, behold, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.” The uninterrupted ecstasy of the holy Mother then took a higher strain, and she spake her more than angelic Magnificat: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is His name. And His mercy of from generation to generation to them that fear Him. He hath showed might in His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy, as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever.” Wonderful words, fit for the Mother of God to magnify her Lord and Saviour. And Mary abode with St. Elizabeth about three months, discharging the office of charity, and instructing her in the ways of the divine providence, and then returned to her own house in Nazareth. Such is the simple Scripture narrative of the visitation of the Blessed Virgin. The Holy Ghost has thought it so important that it could not be passed over in silence, among the many things concerning our Lord which never have been written. Almighty God by it testified to the dignity of His Mother and the truth of His Incarnation. It was by no human power that Elizabeth saw in her meek and humble cousin the Mother of God. Flesh and blood never have revealed to any soul this great mystery. The Holy Ghost opened her eyes, and put upon her lips the words which were to be echoed in the Church forever after, forming the joy and solace of all the faithful: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” St. John the Baptist, too, was miraculously conceived, that he might go before the Redeemer to prepare His way. An infant in his mother’s womb, he had strength to feel the presence of the Lamb of God, and to adore Him, and to testify, even before his birth, to Him for whom he was to live and die. And Mary, not only for herself, but for us and for all her children, exulted in the work of redemption, and taught us the strain of lowly praise which ever finds acceptance in the ears of the Most High.
By this wonderful event also, the Blessed Virgin discharged her office of minister of grace to others. It was her voice that awoke the faith of Elizabeth and caused her to be filled with the Holy Ghost. Her steps brought the Son of God to the adoration of His forerunner, and caused him to be sanctified in his mother’s womb. For according to the common tradition of the Church, St. John was then purified from original sin, and made pleasing to God. Hence we celebrate his holy nativity because he was born in grace. Mary was the instrument through which God was pleased to confer these favors. She was made the channel of new and wonderful grace to Elizabeth and her child. Her visitation was the day of unspeakable mercy to all that household. So is it ever. Where Mary comes, divine grace attends her steps; and wherever she goes, her Son goes with her. She brings to us the blessed fruit of her womb, the Author of Life. She confirms our faith, strengthens our hope, and teaches us how to love. She is the morning star of our early life, shedding its ray of purity over the dangers of our opening years, the bright sun of our noonday, driving away the shadows from the path of anxious manhood, and the evening light, purpling the decline of our day and illuminating the clouds of our sunset. She is our shelter in storm and tempest, a strong army in battle array in the hour of conflict. Her visitations of our soul are days of mercy, and if we improve them, they will end in an eternal and unbroken day. No doubt we can recall many such visitations. She has spoken to us when good desires came pouring in upon our hearts, when the shadow of the adversary darkened our path and blinded our vision, when the sight of our numberless infidelities almost destroyed our courage. After a fall she has come to us with her cheering words, and she has ever been at the foundation of any work we have raised for God. This day and this month she visits our souls. She finds little in them to attract her, but the hope of making them fit tabernacles for her Son to dwell in, the hope of redeeming them from the misery of sin to His endless praise. The voice of her salutation sounds in our ears. It will fill us with the Holy Ghost. It will detach us from the world and our besetting sins. It will nerve us against the temptation which now threatens us, and help us to a complete conquest of ourselves. Let us listen to this voice and follow its counsels, and make haste to render ourselves worthy of our spotless guest, that she may not only visit us but abide with us. “He that findeth her, findeth life, and shall obtain salvation from the Lord.” For she enricheth them that love her and filleth their treasures.