July 2, 2019: VISITATION OF MARY
July 2, 2019: VISITATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Rank: Double of the II Class
“Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
(St. Luke, i. 42)
Happy art thou, O holy Virgin Mary, and worthy of all praise, because from thee did arise the Sun of righteousness, Christ our God. Alleluia.
Grant thy servants, O Lord, we beseech thee, the gift of thy heavenly grace: that as our redemption began in the delivery of the blessed Virgin; so in this solemnity of her Visitation we may have increase of joy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
The Festival of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Our Lady's visit to her Cousin Elizabeth already engaged our attention, whilst we were preparing for the Christmas Festival. But it is only fitting to return again to an event so important in our Lady's life; the mere commemoration of this mystery made on Ember-Friday in Advent, would be insufficient to bring forward all it contains of deep teaching and holy joy. Since in the course of centuries, the Holy Liturgy has been gaining more and more completeness, it is but natural that this precious mine, should come to be further opened, in honour of the Virgin Mother. The Order of St. Francis, it would seem, as well as certain particular Churches, such as Rheims and Paris for example, had already taken the initiative, when Urban VI, in 1389, instituted to-day's solemnity.
We learn from the Lessons of the Office formerly composed for this feast, that the end of its institution was, as Urban conceived it, to obtain the cessation of the Schism then desolating the Church. The Papacy exiled from Rome for seventy years, had barely reentered it, when hell, infuriated at a return which crossed all its plans, ever opposed to those of Christ, had taken revenge by ranging under two leaders, the Flock of the one Sheepfold. So deep was the obscurity wherewith miserable intrigues contrived to cover the authority of the legitimate Shepherd, that numbers of Churches, in all good faith, began to hesitate and ended at last in preferring the deceptive staff of a hireling. Thicker yet was the darkness to grow, till night should be so dense, that for a moment the conflicting mandates of three Popes would simultaneously spread through the world; whilst the Faithful, struck with stupor, would be at utter loss to discern accurately which was the true Voice of Christ's Vicar. Never had the Bride of the Son of God been in a more piteous situation. But Our Lady, unto whom the true Pontiff had turned at the first rising of the storm, deceived not the Church's confidence. During all those years whilst the unfathomable Justice of the Most High let the powers of hell hold sway, She stood for the defence of Holy Church, trampling the head of the old serpent so thoroughly under Her victorious foot, that despite the terrific confusion he had stirred up, his filthy spume could not sully the faith of the people; their attachment was steadfast to the unity of the Roman See, whosoever might be, in the midst of their uncertainty, its veritable occupant. Thus the West, divided in fact but, in principle, ever one and undivided, spontaneously, as it were, re-united herself, as soon as God's moment came for the return of light. However, the hour having arrived for the Queen of Saints to assume the offensive, She would not content Herself with merely re-establishing at its former post, the army of the Elect; hell now must expiate his audacity, by being forced to yield back to Holy Church those conquests which for centuries had seemed his for ever. The tail of the dragon had not yet ceased to whisk at Basle, when Florence already beheld the heads of the Greek schism,—the Armenians and Ethiopians, the cavillers of Jerusalem, of Syria, and of Mesopotamia, all compensating by their unhoped for adhesion to the Roman Pontiff, for the anguish just suffered in the West.
It was now to be shown that such a return of nations, in the very midst even of the tempest, was indeed the work of Her who had been called upon by the Pilot, half a century before, to succour the Bark of Peter. Even they of the factious assembly of Basle gave proof of this, in a way which has unfortunately been too much overlooked by historians who undervalue the high importance that liturgical facts hold in the history of Christendom. When about to separate, these last abettors of the schism devoted the forty-third session of their pretended Council, to the promulgation of this very feast of the Visitation, in the first establishment of which Urban VI had, from the outset, placed all his hopes. Notwithstanding the resistance of some of the more obstinate, the schism may, from that hour, be said to have ended: the storm was subsiding; the name of Mary, invoked thus by both sides, shone resplendent as the sign of peace amidst the clouds, (Gen, ix. 12-17) even as the rainbow in its sweet radiance unites both extremities of the horizon. Look upon it, says the Holy Ghost, and bless him that made it: it is very beautiful in its brightness. It encompasseth the heaven about, with the circle of its glory, the Hands of the most High have displayed it. (Ecclus, xliii. 12-13)
But, it may be asked, why was the feast of the Visitation specially chosen, more than any other, as the monument of restored peace? The answer seems to be suggested in the very nature of the mystery itself and in the manner of its accomplishment.
Here, more particularly, does Mary appear as the Ark of the Covenant, bearing within her the Emmanuel, the living Testimony of a more true reconciliation,—of an alliance more sublime between earth and Heaven, than that limited compact of servitude entered into between Jehovah and the Jews, amidst the roar of thunder. By her means, far better than through Adam, all men are now brethren; for He whom she hides within her, is to be the First-born of the great family of the sons of God. Scarce is He conceived, than there begins for Him the mighty work of universal propitiation. Arise, then Lord, into thy resting place, thou and the Ark which thou hast sanctified,—whence thine own sanctity will pour down upon our earth! (Ps, cxxxi. 8) During the whole of her rapid passage from Nazareth to the mountains of Judea, she shall be protected by wings of Cherubim jealously eager to contemplate her glory. Amidst his truest warriors, amidst Israel's choirs of singing men, David conducted the figurative Ark from the house of Abinadab to that of Obed-Edom; (II Kings, vi.) but better far, the escort deputed by the Eternal Father for this sacred Ark of the New Covenant,—troops of the noblest princes of the heavenly phalanx.
Favoured with benediction was that Levite's house, whilst for three months it sheltered the Most High hidden on the golden Propitiatory; more favoured still, the home of the Priest Zachary, harbouring for the same lapse of time, Eternal Wisdom enshrined in the Virginal womb, wherein that union, so ambitioned by His Love, had just been accomplished. Yet beneath Zachary's roof, blessed as it was, the enemy of God and man was still holding one captive: the angelic embassy that had announced John's miraculous conception and birth, could not exempt him from the shameful tribute that every son of Adam must pay to the prince of death, on entering into this life. As formerly at Azotus, so now, Dagon may not remain standing erect in face of the Ark; (I Kings, v.) Mary appears, and Satan at once overturned, is subjected to utter defeat in John's soul, a defeat that is not to be his last; for the Ark of the Covenant will not stay its victories till the reconciliation of the last of the Elect be effected.
Let us then hymn this day with songs of gladness; for this Mystery contains the germ of every victory gained by the Church and her sons: henceforth the sacred Ark is borne at the head of every combat waged by the new Israel. Division between man and his God is at an end, between the Christian and his brethren! The ancient Ark was powerless to prevent the scission of the Tribes,—henceforth if schism and heresy do hold out for a few short years against Mary, it shall be but to evince more fully her glorious triumph, at last. In all ages, because of Her, even as to-day,—under the very eyes of the enemy now put to confusion, little ones shall rejoice; all, even the desolate, shall be filled with benediction; and Pontiffs shall be perfected. (Ps, cxxxi. 8-9, 14-18) Let us join the tribute of our songs unto John's exulting gladness, unto Elizabeth's sudden exclamations, unto Zachary's canticle: Yea, therewith let all earth reecho! Thus in by-gone days was the Ark hailed, as it entered the Hebrew camp; hearing their shout the Philistines thereby learned, that help had come from the Lord; and seized with terror, they groaned aloud saying: Wo to us; for there was no such great joy yesterday and the day before: Wo to us! (I Kings, iv. 5-8) Verily this day, the whole human race, together with John, leaps for joy and shouts with a great shout; verily this day, hath the old enemy good reason to lament: the heel of the woman, (Gen, iii. 15) as she stamps him down, makes his haughty head to wince for the first time: and John, set free, is hereby the precursor of us all. More happy are we, the new Israel, than was the old, for our glory shall never be taken away; never shall be wrested from us, that sacred Ark which has led us dry-shod across the River (Josue, iii-iv) and has levelled fortresses to the dust at its approach. (Josue, vi.)
Justly then is this day, whereon an end is put to the series of defeats begun in Eden, the day of new canticles for a new people! But who may intone the hymn of triumph, save She to whom the victory belongs? “Arise, arise, O Debbora, arise,—arise and utter a canticle. (Judges, v. 12) The valiant men ceased and rested in Israel, until Mary arose, the true Debbora, until a Mother arose in Israel. (Judges, v. 7) It is I, it is I,” saith she, “that will sing to the Lord, I will sing to the Lord, the God of Israel. (Judges, v. 3) O magnify the Lord with me, as saith my grandsire David, and let us extol his Name together. (Ps, xxxiii. 4) My heart hath rejoiced, like that of Anna, in God my Saviour. (I Kings, ii. 1) For even as in his handmaid Judith, by me he hath fulfilled his mercy, (Judith, xiii. 18) so that my praise shall not depart out of the mouth of men who shall be mindful of the power of the Lord for ever. (Judith, xiii. 25-31; xv. 11) For mighty is he that hath done great things in me; (Exod, xv. 2-3-11) there is none holy as he. (I Kings, ii. 2) Even as by Esther, he hath throughout, all generations saved those who feared him; (Esther, ix. 28) in the power of his arm, (Judith, ix. 11) he hath turned against the impious one the projects of his own heart, driving proud Aman out of his seat and uplifting the humble; the bow of the mighty is overcome, and the weak are girt with strength; the abundance of them that were rich hath passed to the hungry and they are filled; (I Kings, ii. 4-5) he hath remembered his people and hath had pity on his inheritance. (Esther, x. 12) Such indeed was the promise that Abraham received and our fathers have handed down unto us: and he hath done to them even as he had promised.” (Esther, xiii. 15; xiv. 5)
Daughters of Sion and all ye who groan in the thraldom of Satan, the hymn of deliverance has sounded in our land! Following in Her train, who beareth within her the Pledge of alliance, let us form into choirs; better than Mary, Aaron's sister, and by yet juster title, doth she lead the concerts of Israel. (Exod, xv. 20-21) So sings she on this day of triumph, and the burthen of her song gathers into one all the victorious chants which erstwhile, in the ages of expectation, preluded this divine canticle of hers. But the past victories of the elect people were but figures of that which is gained by our glorious Queen on this day of her manifestation; for she, beyond Debbora, Judith, or Esther, has truly brought about the deliverance of her people; in her mouth the accents of her illustrious predecessors pass, from the burning aspiration of the prophetic age, to the calm extasy which denotes her being already in possession of the long expected God. A new era is meetly inaugurated by sacred chants: divine praise receives from Mary that character which henceforth it is never to lose, not even in Eternity.
The preceding considerations have been suggested by the special motive which led the Church to institute this feast, in the fourteenth century. Again, in our own day, has Mary shown that this date is indeed for her a day of victory,—for on the Second of July, in the year 1849, Rome was restored to the exiled Pontiff, Pius IX. But we should far exceed the limits of our present scope, were we to strive to exhaust the teachings of this vast mystery, the Visitation.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. Luke, Ch. i. 39-47.
Mary rising up in those days, went in haste to the hilly country to a city of Juda: and going into the house of Zacharias, saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass, as soon as Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And how happened 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 leapt for joy in my womb. And blessed art thou, that hast believed; for the things that have been told thee from the Lord, shall be accomplished. And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord: and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
The Canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Gospel according to St. Luke, Ch. i. 46-55.
My soul doth magnify the Lord: And my spirit hath rejoiced: in God my Saviour. For he hath looked down on his lowly handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he who is mighty hath done great things to me: and holy is his name. And his mercy from generation to generation, is shown to those who fear him. He hath exerted his strength by his own arm: he hath disappointed the proud ones of the designs of their hearts. He hath cast down the mighty ones from the throne: and raised up the lowly ones. He hath filled the hungry with good things: but the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath upholden his servant Israel: being mindful of his mercy. As he promised to our Father: to Abraham and his seed for ever.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Mary, having learned from the Archangel, that Elizabeth was about to become a mother, is pre-occupied with the thought of the services that will soon be needed by her cousin and the infant; she therefore starts at once on her journey, across the mountains, amidst which stands the house of Zachary. Thus does the charity of Christ (II Cor, v. 14) act, thus does it press, when it is genuine. There is no state of soul, in which under pretext of more exalted perfection, the Christian may be allowed to forget his brethren. Mary had just contracted the highest union with God; and our imagination might perhaps be inclined to picture her, as it were, in a state of powerlessness, lost in extasy during these days in which the Word, taking Flesh of her flesh, is inundating her, in return, with the floods of His Divinity. The Gospel, however, is explicit on this subject: it particularly says that it was in those days (St. Luke, i. 39) even, that the humble Virgin, hitherto quietly hid in the secret of the Lord's Face, (Ps, xxx. 21) rose up to devote herself to all the bodily as well as the spiritual needs of a neighbour in such condition. Does that mean to say that works are superior to prayer, and that contemplation is not the better part? No, certainly not; for indeed never did Our Lady so directly and so fully adhere to God with her whole being, as at this very time. But the creature when he has attained the summits of the unitive life, is all the more apt and fitted for exterior works, inasmuch as no lending of himself thereunto, can distract him from the immoveable centre wherein he is fixed.
A signal privilege is this, resulting from that division of the spirit and the soul, (Heb, iv. 12) to which all attain not, and which marks one of the most decisive steps in the spiritual life; for it supposes a purification of man's entire being so perfect, that in very truth he is no other than one spirit with the Lord; (I Cor, vi. 17) it entails so absolute a submission of the powers, that without clashing one with the other, they yield, each in its particular sphere, obedience simultaneously, unto the Divine Breathing.
So long as the Christian has not yet crossed this last defile, defended with such obstinacy by nature to the last,—so long as he has not yet won that holy liberty of the children of God, (Rom, viii. 21; II Cor, iii. 17) he cannot possibly turn to man, without, in some way, quitting God. Not that he ought, on that account, to neglect his duties towards his neighbour, in whom God wishes us to see no other than Himself; but, nevertheless blessed is he who (like Mary,) loses naught of the better part, the while he attends to his obligations towards others! Yet how few are such privileged souls! and what an illusion it is to persuade ourselves to the contrary!
We shall return to these thoughts, on the day of Our Lady's triumphant Assumption; but the Gospel to which we have just been listening makes it a duty for us, even now, to draw the attention of the reader to this point. Our Lady has especially on this feast, a claim to be invoked as the model of those who devote themselves to works of mercy; and if to all it is by no means given to keep their spirit, at the same moment, more than ever immersed in God,—all, nevertheless, ought constantly to strive to approach, by the practice of recollection and divine praise, unto those luminous heights whereon their Queen shows herself, this day, in all the plenitude of her ineffable perfections.
Another account of the Visitation of Blessed Virgin Mary
From the example of Christ, his blessed Mother, and the apostles, St. Thomas shows that state to be in itself the most perfect which joins together the functions of Martha and Mary, or of the active and contemplative life. This is endeavoured by those persons who so employ themselves in the service of their neighbour, as amidst their external employs or conversation often to raise their minds to God, feeding always on their heavenly invisible food, as the angel did in Toby's company on earth. Who also, by the practice and love of daily recollection and much solitude, fit themselves to appear in public; and who by having learned the necessary art of silence in its proper season, and by loving to speak little among men, study to be in the first place their own friends, and by reflection and serious consideration to be thoroughly acquainted with themselves, and to converse often in heaven (Phil, iii. 20). Such will be able to acquit themselves of external employs without prejudice to their own virtue, when called to them by duty, justice, or charity. They may avoid the snares of the world, and sanctify their conversation with men. Of this the Blessed Virgin is to us a perfect model, in the visit paid to her cousin Elizabeth, as St. Francis of Sales takes notice, who borrowed from this mystery the name which he gave to his Order of nuns, who, according to the first plan of their institute, were devoted to visit and attend on the sick.
The angel Gabriel, in the mystery of the Annunciation, informed the mother of God, that her cousin Elizabeth had miraculously conceived, and was then in the sixth month of her pregnancy. The Blessed Virgin, out of humility, concealed the favour she had received, and the wonderful dignity to which she was raised by the incarnation of the Son of God in her womb; but in the transport of her holy joy and gratitude, she would go to congratulate the mother of the Baptist; with which resolution the Holy Ghost inspired her for his great designs in favour of her Son's precursor, not yet born. “Mary therefore arose,” saith St. Luke, “and with haste went into the hilly country, into a city of Juda; and entering into the house of Zachary saluted Elizabeth.” She made this visit to a saint, because the company of the servants of God is principally to be sought, from whose example and very silence the heart will always treasure up something, and the understanding receive some new light and improvement in charity. As glowing coals increase their flame by contact, so is the fire of divine love kindled in a fervent soul by the words and example of those who truly love God. In this journey what lessons of humility does the Holy Virgin give us! She had been just saluted mother of God, and exalted above all mere creatures, even the highest seraphim of heaven; yet far from being elated with the thoughts of her incomprehensible dignity, she appears but the more humble by it. She prevents the mother of the Baptist in this office of charity; the mother of God pays a visit to the mother of her Son's servant; the Redeemer of the world goes to his precursor. What a subject of confusion is this to the pride of the children of the world! who, not content with the rules of respect which the law of subordination requires, carry their vanity to an excess of ceremoniousness contrary even to good manners, and to the freedom of conversation, which they make an art of constraint and of torture, both to themselves and others; and in which they seek not any duty of piety or improvement in virtue, but loathsome means of foolish flattery, the gratification of vanity, or that dissipation of mind which continually entertains it with trifles and idleness, and is an enemy to serious consideration and virtue.
When the office of charity called upon Mary, she thought of no dangers or difficulties in so painful and long a journey of above fourscore miles from Nazareth in Galilee to Hebron, a sacerdotal city in the mountainous country, on the western side of the tribe of Juda. The inspired writer takes notice that she went with haste, or with speed and diligence, to express her eagerness to perform this good office. Charity knows not what sloth is, but always acts with fervour. She likewise would hasten her steps out of modesty, not choosing to appear abroad, but as compelled by necessity or charity; not travelling out of vanity, idleness, or curiosity, but careful in her journey to shun the dissipation of the world, according to the remarks of St. Ambrose. Whence we may also gather with what care she guarded her eyes, and what was the entertainment of her pious soul with God upon the road. Being arrived at the house of Zachary, she entered it, and saluted Elizabeth. What a blessing did the presence of the God-man bring to this house, the first which he honoured in his humanity with his visit! But Mary is the instrument and means by which he imparts to it his divine benediction; to show us that she is a channel through which he delights to communicate to us his graces, and to encourage us to ask them of him through her intercession. At the voice of the mother of God, but by the power and grace of her Divine Son, in her womb, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost, and the infant in her womb was sanctified; and miraculously anticipating the use of reason, know by divine inspiration the mystery of the incarnation, and who it was that came to visit him. From this knowledge he conceived so great, so extraordinary a joy as to leap and exult in the womb. If Abraham and all the ancient prophets exulted only to foresee in spirit that day when it was at the distance of so many ages, what wonder the little Baptist felt so great a joy to see it then present! How eagerly did he desire to take up his office of precursor, and already to announce to men their Redeemer, that he might be known and adored by all! But how do we think he adored and reverenced him present in his mother's womb? and what were the blessings with which he was favoured by him? He was cleansed from original sin, and filled with sanctifying grace, was made a prophet, and adored the Messiah before he was yet born.
At the same time Elizabeth was likewise filled with the Holy Ghost; and by his infused light, she understood the great mystery of the Incarnation which God had wrought in Mary, whom humility prevented from disclosing it even to a saint, and an intimate friend. In raptures of astonishment, Elizabeth pronounced her blessed above all other women, she being made by God the instrument of his blessing to the world, and of removing the malediction which through Eve had been entailed on mankind. But the fruit of her womb she called blessed in a sense still infinitely higher, he being the immense source of all graces, by whom only Mary herself was blessed. Elizabeth then turning her eyes upon herself, cried out,—“Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” She herself had conceived, barren, and by a miracle; but Mary, a virgin, and by the Holy Ghost. She conceived one greater than the prophets; but Mary, the eternal Son of God, himself true God. The Baptist, her son, used the like exclamation to express his confusion and humility when Christ came to be baptized by his hands. In the like words and profound sentiments ought we to receive all the visits of God in his graces, especially in the holy sacraments. Elizabeth styles Mary, Mother of her Lord, that is, mother of God; and she foretells that all things would befall her and her Son which had been spoken by the prophets.
Mary hearing her own praise, sunk the lower in the abyss of her nothingness, and, converting all good gifts to the glory of God, whose gratuitous mercy had bestowed them, in the transport of her humility, and melting in an ecstacy of love and gratitude, burst into that admirable canticle called the Magnificat. It is the first recorded in the New Testament, and, both in the noble sentiments which compose it, and in the majesty of the style, surpasses all those of the ancient prophets. It is the most perfect model of thanksgiving and praise for the incarnation of the Son of God, and the most precious monument of the profound humility of Mary. In it she glorifies God with all the powers of her soul for his boundless mercies, and gives to him alone all the glory. In the spiritual gladness of her heart she adores her Saviour, who had cast his merciful eyes upon her lowliness. Though all nations will call her blessed, she declares that nothing is her due but abjection, and that this mystery is the effect of the pure power and mercy of God; and that he who had dethroned tyrants, fed the hungry in the wilderness, and wrought so many wonders in favour of his people, had now vouchsafed himself to visit them, to live among them, to die for them, and to fulfil all things which he had promised by his prophets from the beginning. Mary stayed with her cousin almost three months, after which she returned to Nazareth.
Whilst with the Church we praise God for the mercies and wonders which he wrought in this mystery, we ought to apply ourselves to the imitation of the virtues of which Mary sets us a perfect example. From her we ought particularly to learn the lessons by which we shall sanctify our visits and conversation; actions which are to so many Christians the sources of innumerable dangers and sins. We must shun not only scurrilous and profane discourse, but whatever is idle, light, airy, or unprofitable; whilst we unbend our mind, we ought as much as possible to seek that conversation which is conducive to the improvement of our hearts or understandings, and to the advancement of virtue and solid useful knowledge. If we suffer our mind to be puffed up with empty wind, it will become itself such as is the nourishment upon which it feeds. We should shun the vice of talkativeness, did we but consult that detestable vanity itself which betrays us into this folly. For nothing is more tyrannical or more odious and insupportable in company than to usurp a monopoly of the discourse. Nothing can more degrade us in the opinion of others than for us to justle, as it were, for the word; to vent all we have in our hearts, at least a great deal that we ought to conceal there; and without understanding ourselves, or taking a review of our meaning or words, to pour out embryos of half-formed conceptions, and speak of the most noble subjects in an undress of thoughts. What proofs of our vanity and folly, what disgraces, what perplexities, what detractions, and other evils and sins should we avoid, if we were but sparing and reserved in our words! If we find ourselves to swell with an itch of talking, big with our own thoughts, and impatient to give them vent, we must by silence curb this dangerous passion, and learn to be masters of our words.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year –
Time After Pentecost, Vol. III, Dublin, Edition 1890;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God;
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.