Following the Annunciation in which the angel Gabriel came to Mary and pronounced she would become the mother of our Lord, Mary traveled from Galilee to Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth, an elderly woman, who after a lifetime with a barren womb had conceived a child. Elizabeth, whose pregnancy also followed a message from the angel Gabriel, would give birth to John the Baptist.
And while Gabriel greeted Mary with the words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women,” Elizabeth proclaimed, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” These two moments recorded in Scripture form the first part of the Hail Mary prayer we say today. The entire Visitation account is recorded in Luke 1:39-56.
Here, scripture goes on to tell us that John the Baptist, still unborn, leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. We are shown in this passage the transition between the Old and the New Covenant. On the one hand, we have a woman too old to conceive a child through ordinary means, yet through the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit, her womb is prepared and granted the grace to bear the last prophet of the Old Covenant. On the other hand, we have a woman quite young and not ready to conceive a child through ordinary means, but again through the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit her womb is chosen and prepared to bear the New Covenant Himself.
It is through this powerful encounter between these two holy women that the Old and New Covenant intersect and the totality of salvation history is made clear.
This feast was formerly celebrated on July 2, but was changed to fall between the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord and the birth of John the Baptist to more closely mirror the gospel accounts.
1. How did Elizabeth know that Mary was carrying our Lord? What made her understand that her young cousin would be the most blessed woman of all time? She knew it because she recognized the Holy Spirit’s presence within her signified through the extraordinary life “leaping for joy” in her womb.
2. We must learn to recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence in our own lives and mirror the experience of Elizabeth and Mary. Through the submission of will and the acceptance of extraordinary grace, Christ can grow within each of us and we will be driven more and more to act and react with peace, thanksgiving, and joy.
Other Saints We Remember Today
Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. Petronilla (1st Century), Virgin