1) Opening prayer
Lord our God, loving Father,
Mary went with haste to visit
her cousin Elizabeth in her hour of need.
May we too rejoice in the Lord
when we can hurry to see people
to bring them the Lord
as we share in their needs and their joys.
With Mary, may we become
a blessing to them.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
2) Gospel Reading - Luke 1:39-56
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever." Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
• Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin, and the Gospel narrates the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. When Luke speaks of Mary, he thinks of the communities of his time which lived dispersed throughout the cities of the Roman Empire and offers them Mary as a model of how they should relate to the Word of God. Once, while hearing Jesus speak about God, a woman in the crowd exclaimed: “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts that fed You”, praising the mother of Jesus. Immediately Jesus answered: “More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:27-28). Mary is the model of the faithful community which knows how to live and practice the Word of God. In describing the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, he teaches how the communities should act in order to transform the visit of God into service to the brother and sisters.
• The episode of the visit of Mary to Elizabeth also shows another typical aspect of Luke. All the words and attitudes, especially the Canticle of Mary, form a great celebration of praise. It seems to be a description of a solemn liturgy. Thus, Luke evokes the liturgical and celebrative environment in which Jesus was formed and in which the communities should live their own faith.
• Luke 1:39-40: Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Luke stresses the haste with which Mary responds to the demands of the Word of God. The Angel spoke to her about the pregnancy of Elizabeth, and Mary immediately rises in response to what the Angel had announced. She goes out of the house to help a person in need. The distance from Nazareth to the mountain of Judah was about 100 kilometers, and there were no buses or trains!
• Luke 1:41-44: The greeting of Elizabeth. Elizabeth represents the Old Testament which ends. Mary, the new one which is beginning. The Old Testament welcomes, accepts the new one with gratitude and trust, recognizing in it the gratuitous gift of God which comes to complete whatever expectation the people had. In the encounter of the two women, the gift of the Spirit is manifested, which makes the child jump with joy in Elizabeth’s womb. The Good News of God reveals His presence in one of the most common things of human life: two housewives who exchange a visit to help one another. A visit, joy, pregnancy, children, reciprocal help, house, family: Luke wants to make the communities (and all of us) understand and discover the presence of the Kingdom. The words of Elizabeth, up until now, form part of the best known and most recited Psalm in the world, which is the Hail Mary.
• Luke 1:45: The praise which Elizabeth makes of Mary. “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made by the Lord would be fulfilled”. This is Luke’s advice to the communities: to believe in the Word of God, because it has the force to realize what it says. It is a creative Word. It generates a new life in the womb of a virgin, in the womb of the poor and abandoned people who accept it with faith.
• Luke 1:46-56: The canticle of Mary. Most likely, this canticle was already known and sung in the communities. It teaches how it should be prayed and sung. Luke 1:46-56: Mary begins proclaiming the change which has come about in her life under the loving look of God, full of mercy. This is why she sings joyfully: “My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior”. Luke 1:51-53: she sings the fidelity of God toward His people and proclaims the change which the arm of Yahweh is bringing about on behalf of the poor and the hungry. The expression “arm of God” recalls the liberation of the Exodus. It is this saving force of God which gives life to the change: He has routed the arrogant of heart (1:51), He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly (1:52), He has sent the rich away empty, and has filled the starving with good things (1:53). Luke 1:54-55: at the end, she recalls that all this is the expression of God’s mercy toward His people and an expression of His fidelity to the promises made to Abraham. The Good News is not a response to the observance of the Law, but the expression of the goodness and the fidelity of God to the promises made. That is what Paul taught in the letters to the Galatians and to the Romans.
The second Book of Samuel tells the story of the Ark of the Covenant. David wants to put it in his own house, but he is frightened and says: “How can the Ark of Yahweh come to be with me?” (2 S 6:9). Then David ordered that the Ark be placed in the house of Obed-Edom. And the Ark of Yahweh remained three months in the house of Obed-Edom, and the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and his whole family” (2 S 6:11). Mary, waiting for Jesus, is like the Ark of the Covenant which, in the Old Testament, visited the houses of the persons granting benefits. She goes to Elizabeth’s house and remained there three months. And while she is in Elizabeth’s house, the whole family is blessed by God. The community should be like a new Ark of the Covenant. Visiting the homes of others, it should take benefits and the grace of God to the people.
4) Personal questions
• What prevents us from discovering and living the joy of God’s presence in our life?
• Where and how does the joy of the presence of God take place today in my life and in that of my family or community?
5) Concluding Prayer
Bless Yahweh, my soul, from the depths of my being,
His holy name;
bless Yahweh, my soul,
never forget all His acts of kindness. (Ps 103:1-2)