Thursday, May 31, 2007
The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Visitation, like the Ascension, is one of the many festivals of the church that receives little to no notice in many parts of the church today. One of the benefits of this blog for me has been the opportunity to share these forgotten festivals with others despite the fact that many churches like mine will not gather for any act of worship in honor of the occasion.
The more modern three-year lectionary places the date of this minor festival on today, May 31. However, the older lectionary places it on July 2. I have to admit that I do not understand the shuffling of dates that has occurred between the calenders in the last century or so. Certainly there is a good reason, but it will require more research. This festival is also a relative newcomer to the church calendar. According to The Christian Calendar by Cowie and Gummer, "It was the Franciscans who first observed it in the West and their devotion was confirmed at the Council of Basle." They also note that the Eastern church does not observe this festival, which I find perplexing.
The lection for this day is Luke 1:39-47, which includes not only the actual visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth and her familiar greeting, but also the first two lines of the beautiful canticle of Mary, the Magnificat. The Christian Calendar (Cowie and Gummer) catches a sense of the significance of this event:
"It would have been a difficult journey which Mary undertook and the Visitation has always been seen as symbolic of the homely kindness associated with the Virgin. Just as Christ later will go to be baptized of John, even though infinitely greater than he, so His mother goes to visit Elizabeth whose child leaps in her womb as if in recognition....the natural affections of cousins are caught up in the eternal mission in which they both share." (200)
The greeting of Elizabeth to Mary has become a well known phrase to many readers of the Bible due to its inclusion in the familiar "Hail Mary" prayer of the Catholic church. However, the importance of Elizabeth's greeting also highlights the blessedness of Mary as the Mother of Our Lord, an honor truly unique of all women. Elizabeth recognizes that God himself has come close to her this day. And the reaction of the still unborn John demonstrates the power of our Lord's presence as he leaps in the womb for joy as Mary enters. Mary receives this exclamation of faith and celebration humbly and meekly, as her canticle demonstrates so beautifully.
The Collect for this day, as recorded in Lutheran Worship reads:
"Almighty God, as you dealt wonderfully with your servant, the blessed virgin Mary, in choosing her to be the mother of your dearly beloved Son and thus graciously made known your regard for the poor and lowly and despised, grant us grace in all humility and meekness to receive your Word with hearty faith and to rejoice in Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen."