May 31. Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Mass Readings + homily notes for special feasts and memorials
A hymn of joy to God my Saviour
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
The Visitation, culminating in the joyful Magnificat
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
The Visitation of Our Lady to Saint Elizabeth is celebrated in this modified homily-excerpt from the Venerable Bede (early 8th century), used in the Divine Office of Readings for May 31st. He explains why the Magnificat is used in the church's prayer.
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord." With these words Mary first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God's universal favours, bestowed unceasingly on the human race. When we devote all our thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, we proclaim God's greatness. Our observance of God's commands, too, shows that we have God's power and greatness always at heart. Our spirit rejoices in God our saviour and delights in the mere recollection of his creator who gives us hope for eternal salvation.
"Rejoicing in God my Saviour"..These words can apply to all of God's creations, but apply especially to the Mother of God. She alone was chosen for that honour, and she burned with spiritual love for the son she so joyously conceived. Above all other saints, she alone could truly rejoice in Jesus, her saviour, for she knew that he who was the source of eternal salvation would be born in time in her body, in one person both her own son and her Lord.
"The Almighty has done great things for me." Mary attributes nothing to her own merits. She refers all her greatness to the gift of the one whose essence is power and whose nature is greatness, for he fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in him. And she did well to add: "holy is his name," to warn those who heard, and indeed all who would receive his words, that they must believe and call upon his name. For they too could share in everlasting holiness and true salvation according to the words of the prophet: "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Therefore it is an excellent and fruitful custom of holy church that we should sing Mary's hymn at the time of evening prayer. By meditating upon the incarnation, our devotion is kindled, and by remembering the example of God's Mother, we are encouraged to lead a life of virtue. Such virtues are best achieved in the evening. We are weary after the day's work and worn out by our distractions. The time for rest is near, and our minds are ready for contemplation.
Part of Elizabeth's greeting of Mary in today's gospel has made its way into the prayer that we know as the Hail Mary, "of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." Elizabeth declares Mary blessed because she is the mother of the Lord. Elizabeth goes on to declare Mary blessed because of her faith, "blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled." It was because of her faith that she became the mother of God's Son. It was her surrender in faith to God's call, "let it be to me according to your word," that ensured she would become the mother of the Lord. We may not all be able to imitate Mary's motherhood, but we can imitate her faith, which was what really defined her. Paul in his letter to the Galatians speaks of "faith working through love" or faith which expresses itself in love. That was the kind of faith Mary had; her visit to Elizabeth was her faith expressing itself in love. This is the same mature faith that we are all called to, "the faith that shows itself in love." Mary shows us the way to such a faith.