May 31: Feast of the Visitation

The Feast of the Visitation, celebrated in the Church on May 31st, commemorates the Virgin Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth. The meeting of these two women was a joyful and unique event. Both found themselves pregnant in unusual circumstances – Elizabeth in her old age after suffering from infertility, and Mary by the Holy Spirit. At their meeting, John the Baptist leaped in the womb of Elizabeth, and she blessed Mary and the Christ Child. Mary, in turn, responded with the famous Magnificat praising the Lord. This visit is detailed in Luke 1,39-55.

For reflection: As the body of the Lord was growing in her own womb, Mary spent three months caring for Elizabeth, leaving only shortly before the birth of St. John the Baptist. She shows us what true “love of neighbor” means: placing the needs of others above our own, devoting ourselves to our neighbors in their hour of need. Perhaps Mary knew there would be plenty of time to think of herself and her Child … for the present moment, her thoughts were only with her cousin, and with the child who would become the Forerunner of Christ. Truly, as Mary responded to her cousin’s greeting, her soul did “magnify the Lord,” not least through her love of her neighbor.

Let us pray. “Almighty ever-living God, who, while the Blessed Virgin Mary was carrying your Son in her womb, inspired her to visit Elizabeth, grant us, we pray, that, faithful to the promptings of the Spirit, we may magnify your greatness with the Virgin Mary at all times. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you for ever and ever. Amen.”


Bonus (today’s homily):

On Sundays, at Mass, you will easily recognize that there is a first reading, a Responsorial Psalm, a second reading, Alleluia, and then a Gospel reading (from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). As the Church has set up that “order of readings” it has done so with the Jewish synagogue worship in mind. Did you know that?

In the synagogue [at the time of Jesus], [and it is still true today], Jewish worship included [and includes] a reading from the Torah, the Psalms, the Wisdom books, and the Prophets. The day that Jesus stood up in the synagogue [and read from the Prophet Isaiah] was “in keeping” with the “liturgy of the word” – typical for the “Jewish word service.” Those readings were often chosen with “a common thread” in mind. There was (and still is, supposed to be) a theme, a unity, a connection from reading to reading.

The Catholic Liturgy of the Word on Sundays is deliberately set up so that there is a common thread  from the first reading … to the Psalm … to the Gospel. But that “second reading” was not chosen for its “connection” to the others. Sometimes, there is a connection that can be made but it wasn’t chosen (that second reading) for an “overt connection.” It sort of stands on its own, but it, too, is the Holy Word of God … so we can often see a link, but (again) that is more by accident than anything else. When I travel out of state and go to Mass and I hear the preacher (Bishop, priest, or deacon) say “the obvious connection between all of these readings is….” well, I grow a little skeptical!

Now, Feastday Masses, like today’s, the Visitation, are different: there is supposed to be a connection here. The Church has given us the prophet Zephaniah and a Responsory and Luke chapter 1. Zephaniah has said: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!  Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart,  O daughter Jerusalem!” This is a lead-in to Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat. Mary shouts for joy, Mary sings joyfully, she is glad and exults … saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” And the Responsory today is: “Among you is the great and holy one of Israel.” John the Baptist recognized as much, even before he was born. “The great and holy on of Israel” had arrived, in his parents’ home!

So, we have connections, links, things coming together. Here’s one that might not sound so obvious: the Feast of the Visitation (this year) falls on Memorial Day … a day on which we are encouraged to remember the fallen (in military service). It is also a day on which we are encouraged to “visit” cemeteries. Let’s keep in mind that Mary, pregnant herself, makes the effort, she chooses to go “away from her own home,” to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She visits her. (I saw a commentary on Luke’s 1st chapter last night which said, “Mary didn’t know what else to do … so she went to visit Elizabeth.” Baloney! She knew exactly what to do: she went, she visited, she demonstrated her care, she shared her love, she “extended” herself (as we might say today). She didn’t want her cousin to be alone.

Jana Ripley sent out an email today which included a cartoon with a son and father in a cemetery. The son says, “Why are we here in this cemetery all alone?” And the father says (looking at the grave markers), “We’re not alone.” Our presence at this Mass today affirms the “bond of the living and the dead.”  A cemetery visit today (just like this Mass) will be an expression of our “communion with the saints” … a chance to “visit” another “part” of the Church.

There is a connection between us. This is all linked. This is all meant to go together. That second reading on Sunday can stand alone, on its own. But we can’t. We’re not meant to.

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