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What is the Visitation?

In the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel (Lk. 1:26-57), the Archangel Gabriel announces two wonderful events to the Blessed Virgin Mary, that she herself will bear “the Son of the Most High,” and that her aged cousin Elizabeth was in her sixth month. Despite being newly pregnant with Our Lord, Mary “hastens” to Judea from Nazareth to help her kinswoman through her final months. After Elizabeth’s and Zachary’s child (John the Baptist) was born, Our Lady returned to Nazareth. The Church celebrates the Feast of the Visitation each year on May 31.

VISITATION

Why exactly did the Archangel tell Mary about Elizabeth?

St. Gabriel announced, “And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:36-37). After Mary found out that her cousin was pregnant, she immediately left to visit her. Until modern times, women normally relied on their families and their communities to assist them with their pregnancies and deliveries. As an older woman, St. Elizabeth especially needed assistance during this time. It also holds spiritual significance that these two women – the mothers of the Savior and His forerunner – spent time together. As the Gospel of Luke recounts, they both understood and appreciated this significance (Lk. 1:41-56). READ MORE


Who is Elizabeth to Mary, the Mother of Jesus?

St. Luke tells us that Elizabeth was Mary’s kinswoman (syngenis), a term that simply means a female relative. Some early writers thought them cousins, whose mothers were sisters, but Scripture doesn’t provide that detail. Elizabeth, like her husband, was from a priestly family (Lk. 1:5). This indicates that Mary, also, was “a daughter of Aaron.” Whatever the actual degree of relationship, the close kinship is indicated by the familiarity which the two women show each other.

How many months pregnant was Elizabeth when Mary visited her?

Elizabeth was six months pregnant, as Gabriel had stated.

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.’” - Luke 1:46-48

How far did Mary travel to visit Elizabeth?

Elizabeth resided in Judea with her husband Zechariah, a priest who periodically served in the Temple (Lk. 1:5). Tradition holds that they lived in Ein Karem, near Jerusalem. The Church of the Visitation commemorates the place today. The journey would have been an arduous one. Since Jews avoided the direct route through Samaria, she would have traveled from Nazareth down to the Jordan Valley, followed the river south to just north of the Dead Sea, then up to Jerusalem, a climb of 3100 feet and distance of 28 miles. Today, the same journey is a 105-mile trip. While we know she would not have made the journey alone, but with relatives or other pilgrims from Nazareth, some authors suggest that Joseph would have accompanied her to protect and provide for her. Scripture, however, is silent on such details.


When Mary visited Elizabeth, what did Elizabeth first say to her?

Elizabeth exclaimed: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (Luke 1:42-45) The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 495) states, “Called in the Gospels ‘the mother of Jesus,’ Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as ‘the mother of my Lord’.” While we do not know the word used by St. Elizabeth in Aramaic, the word used here by St. Luke, Kurios, is the Greek word chosen by the rabbis to translate the divine name of God, YHWH (I AM) into Greek. Not only is Elizabeth identifying Jesus as God, therefore, but Mary as the Mother of God.


What happened when Mary greeted Elizabeth?

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, the child in her womb leapt for joy and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:41). This is understood as indicating that St. John was justified in his mother’s womb. This is not an unlikely privilege of grace for the Forerunner of the Messiah, especially in light of the Church’s faith that the Mother of the Redeemer was herself conceived in justice at the very beginning of her life.

Why did Mary stay with Elizabeth for three months?

Mary was staying with Elizabeth to help her through the last trimester of her pregnancy and presumably to help her during labor. As an older woman, it must have been particularly difficult – barring another miracle – to carry the baby and deliver him.

“May we imitate her example of readiness and generosity in the service of our brethren. Indeed, only by accepting God’s love and making of our existence a selfless and generous service to our neighbour, can we joyfully lift a song of praise to the Lord.” - Pope Benedict XVI

Who is Zechariah in the Bible?

We read about the father of John the Baptist in Luke 1:5-25: In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they wondered at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he made signs to them and remained dumb. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, “Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.”

“Her Magnificat, at the distance of centuries and millennia, remains the truest and most profound interpretation of history, while the interpretations of so many of this world’s wise have been belied by events in the course of the centuries.” - Pope Benedict XVI