St. Joseph: Present or Absent at the Visitation?

Recently a particular thought pervaded my meditation—whether or not St. Joseph was present for the Visitation.  I asked several of my friends their thoughts.  Most of them told me either they never thought about it before or they thought Joseph did not.  I knew what my initial thoughts were, and I thought that I would do a brief study on the question, and seek a resolution.  My inquiry was threefold: scripture, mystical revelation, and artistic expression.  On the feast of the Visitation, I wish to share my findings.

Scripture

I am the first to admit, I always imagined the young Mary of Nazareth leaving her family’s home and joining a caravan of people heading to Jerusalem, at which she would break off and head to Ein Karem, the village where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived.  I never gave consideration to whether or not Joseph went with her, but if I ventured a guess, I would say, like many others I asked, he did not.  I would say that the scriptures would support this, given their silence on the matter.

In Luke 1:39, it says, “During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah.”  It does not say, “During those days Mary and Joseph set out in haste.”  One thing I always keep in mind is something St. Bernard wrote in his homily Missus Est, that Luke loves to relay details.  Commenting on the Annunciation event, Bernard points out the specific facts:  the sixth month, to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin, betrothed to Joseph, named Mary; Elizabeth, Mary’s kinswoman, is six months pregnant.  Even with the Visitation, Luke pays attention to detail, pointing out that Mary stays with Elizabeth three months, thereby indicating Mary saw the birth of John the Baptist.  With an emphasis on facts, why would Luke leave out that Joseph joined Mary on this journey to Nazareth?

Secondly, the Matthean gospel, in recounting the birth of Jesus, states that Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly (Mt. 1:19).  Given the timeframe between the Annunciation, the Visitation (while not in Matthew’s account), and Mary’s return to Nazareth, it would seem the decision to separate from Mary due to perceived infidelity happened following the Visitation.  If Joseph joined Mary, wouldn’t he know or seen Mary’s progression in pregnancy?  From a scriptural standpoint, it would seem my original opinion, validated by those I queried, stands to reason, namely that Mary went to visit Elizabeth, on her own accord, despite her young age, and then returned to Nazareth herself.

Mystical Revelations

However, my research did not end with scripture and further study yielded another answer, suggesting that Joseph did in fact travel with Mary to visit Elizabeth and Zechariah.  In my second phase of studying this question I turned to the mystical writings of Venerable Mary of Agreda and Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich.  Mary of Agreda received ecstatic mystical visions, preserved in her account The Mystical City of God, for the purposes of this reflection I will cite from the abridged version, published by TAN (1978).  Many people might also know the name Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich because Mel Gibson based The Passion of Christ off of another work pertaining to her mystical visions (The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ).  In addition to her visions of Jesus, Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich also received revelations regarding Mary’s life, presented in The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Tan Books, 1970).

By having recourse to mystical private revelations, I do not wish to exalt these writings to the level of dogma or public revelation.  I do, however, find them to be a great resource in order to clarify or glean insight into some of the unknown facts of the Holy Family not contained in the pages of Sacred Scripture.  These revelations contain the ability to satiate the hungering mind’s curiosity, as is the case with this essay.

Both Mary of Agreda and Anne Catherine Emmerich are in agreement on Joseph’s role in the visitation.   Mary of Agreda wites, “Having pursued their journey four days, the most holy Mary and her spouse arrived at the town of Juda, where Zachary and Elisabeth then lived”(180).  Anne Catherine Emmerich, provides more details than Mary of Agreda, saying that “The time was now drawing near when Joseph wished to go up to Jerusalem for the Passover, Our Lady decided to accompany him in order to help Elisabeth in her pregnancy.  Joseph therefore started with the Blessed Virgin on the journey to Jutta”(148).  Another common emphasis of both mystics regards Joseph’s knowledge of Mary’s pregnancy.  Both agree that he was not aware of the privilege granted to Mary (Agreda, 185.  Emmerich, 148).  Lastly, both agree for a third time, that Joseph returned to accompany Mary on her journey back to Nazareth.  Where they differ though is on the distance traveled. Mary of Agreda reports Joseph returned to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth (cf. p 191) while Emmerich states Joseph met Mary half-way (cf. p 166).  For both mystics, it was during the return trip home that Joseph notices Mary’s pregnancy and considers his course of action.

An appeal to private revelation provides an alternative answer to the one offered earlier through an appeal to Sacred Scripture.  It is from here, that we proceed to the third mode of research—artistic expression.

Artistic Expression

The life of Mary as recounted in the gospels, believed in the tradition, and seen by mystics, has been the subject of several artists’ works.  I am careful to use the word artist, to connote not only the great painters or mosaicists, but also cinematographers for our contemporary age.

Film

The 2006 The Nativity Story presents the life of Mary leading up to the event of Christmas.  After the Annunciation, the young Mary tells her family her desire to go and see Elizabeth and Zechariah, citing her pregnancy.  While Mary’s parents disbelieve her, they acquiesce to her departure.  Mary tells Joachim and Anne, that Jacob and his family were going south and that she promised Sarah assistance with the children.  Her parent’s reply, “make sure Zechariah finds a good family for you to return with.” After Mary’s departure from Ein Karem and subsequent return to Nazareth, her pregnancy is noticed, and Joseph discusses the troubling choices he now faces.

The Ignatius Press Film from 2014, Mary of Nazareth, depicts a similar episode, yet at the same time, differs from The Nativity Story.  Following the Annunciation, Mary again shares with her family about Elizabeth and her intent on visiting.  Mary tells her family she will join a caravan on the way to the temple.  Her parents question the departure since the wedding is so close.  Unlike The Nativity Story, which did not show Mary consulting Joseph, Mary of Nazareth does.  Joseph volunteers to go with Mary, but Mary dismisses Joseph, telling him she does want to steal his time away from working on the house.  Mary joins a caravan and after spending time with Elizabeth, returns to Nazareth, where she is met with the disgust of her townspeople who see her pregnant.  Joseph tells Mary that he will leave her quietly so that she will not be put to death, and later destroys the house he was working on.  It was after the destruction, that Joseph has his dream and decides to take Mary into his home.

Art

The recent films pertaining to the life of Jesus and Mary do not depict Joseph as a participant in the Visitation.  While film does not, and many paintings depict solely Mary and Elizabeth greeting one another, there is no shortage of paintings and mosaics that depict Joseph as a bystander at the Visitation.  Here are few to reflect on:

Visitation LMonaco

BVM-Visitation-web

The-Visitation-1659

Conclusion

Many Catholics regularly reflect on the mystery of the Visitation of Mary to Elizaabeth when they pray the second joyful mystery.  If others are like me, they may have never considered Joseph to be present for the Visitation, which the insights gleaned from this study may enhance their prayerful meditation on the Visitation.  In our inquiry that spanned scripture, mystical revelation, and artistic expression, we find conflicting answers.  Either conclusion, whether Mary went to Ein Karem alone or accompanied by Joseph, could be correct.  The reality is, we simply do not know for Sacred Scripture remains silent on the issue.  Recourse to private revelation indicates that Joseph journeyed with Mary, whereas the film genre, which has the ability to shape people’s minds, does not depict this.  The imgination of artists throughout history suggest Joseph’s presence.  In closing, it is up to the individual believer to form his or her own belief, through study, prayer, and reflection.  I hope this inquiry, has been of some assistance, opening our minds to new possibilities in the mystery of the Holy Family and the Vistiation.

Fr. Edward Looney

By

Fr. Edward Looney was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin on June 6, 2015.  A member of the Mariological Society of America, Fr. Looney publishes regularly on Marian topics, including the approved 1859 Wisconsin apparition.  He is the author of the best-selling rosary devotional, A Rosary Litany and his latest book is A Heart Like Mary’s: 31 Daily Meditations published by Ave Maria Press.  You can also follow Fr. Edward on Twitter,Facebook,Instagram, or Soundcloud

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  • OldPapist

    Father Ed,

    Common sense would seem to dictate that St. Joseph went with her, it was after all a relatively long trek (and probably a dangerous one.)

    St. Luke’s and St. Matthew’s silence about St. Joseph’s care of the Blessed Virgin is somewhat akin to neglecting to say that water is wet, it goes without saying.

    As to private revelation, it leaves me cold. For every private revelation that says “A,” there’s another that says “not A.” Better to look to Scripture for bolstering our faith, and to use our God given wits. Faith and Reason.

    Regards,

    An Old Papist

  • naomhniall

    See also: The Virgin Mary in the Kingdom of the Divine Will: Appendix, Meditation I; “Visit to St. Elisabeth; Sanctification of St. John” by Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta. “So I departed from Nazareth, accompanied by St. Joseph.”

  • El_Tigre_Loco

    Look at the customs in the Middle East. No woman travels alone. I vote for St. Joseph accompanying her.

  • Teresa Davis

    I believe that Joseph did accompany Mary , for reasons that were probably practical in that day, like woman of good reputation traveling alone without known male escort, but as a spiritual sign to Joseph, that the birth was indeed out of the ordinary. Consider, if Mary had left on her own, then arrived back home pregnant, Joseph wound have thought he pregnancy to have happened in the ordinary way, while she was away. . But, at home , given the strict laws of women in traditional Jewish families at that time, Mary’s time and whereabouts were accounted for, as Joseph was there. So, Mary COULD travel along with Joseph, since he’d be there. As a result of before and after the visitation, and watching the pregnancy progress, he knew It was not by normal means, and was in fact as she said, she had been visited visited by an angel, who declared the birth would be of God, by The power of The Holy Spirit. For Joseph, the time line, events, and his proximity to Mary..confirmed the supernatural nature of the pregnancy.

  • naomhniall

    See also Meditation 1 in the Appendix of Servant of God, Luisa Piccarreta’s The Virgin Mary in the Kingdom of the Divine Will; “Visit to St. Elizabeth/Sanctification of John”: “So I departed from Nazareth, accompanied by St. Joseph…”

  • naomhniall

    How long Lord, to approve a comment?

  • Michael J. Lichens

    Mea Culpa. They are approved and I’ll see why they were stuck in the first place.

  • ALBERTA TRAFFICANTE

    According to the revelations of Maria Valtorta, Mary’s parents died while Mary was living at the Temple with Anna who was mentioned in the Gospel account of the Presentation. From there, she was betrothed to St. Joseph and returned to her childhood home in Nazareth. Joseph knew of Mary’s vow of virginity and agreed that they would be continent. Since Mary was only 14 or so and Joseph was about 30, the decision was made to keep seperate households until Mary was 16. In the meantime, Joseph visited everyday for supper.
    Upon hearing about St.Elizabeth’s pregnancy and Mary’s intention to stay with her, Joseph arranged to accompany Mary to Jerusalem and to press into service a trusted friend for the rest of the journey.
    Mary would send word to Joseph when the birth took place. Joseph then would join Mary 40 days later at the Temple to accompany her home. At that point, Mary would have been in her second trimester – 3 months plus another 2, making her 5 months pregnant. As much as Mary tried to hide the fact of her pregnancy with her garments, Joseph took note. The journey back was a very somber one.

  • El_Tigre_Loco

    There is also Matthew 1:20 where an angel assures Joseph that Mary is okay to marry.

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