Musings on the Visitation and Magnificat

Today is the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As depicted in this beautiful painting by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, this feast of course celebrates the day when Mary set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.”

Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.

Elizabeth's response, of course, has some familiar words to it. Words that most of us have known since we were children, as part of the "Hail Mary." "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb."

The second to last paragraph has also become very familiar to me over the years. It is known as the Magnificat, or sometimes Mary's song, and is said each night as part of evening prayer.

As a child, praying the Hail Mary, Mary was simple for me to understand. Blessed among women, mother of God, she interecedes for us now and at the hour of our death. Mother. Holy. Praying for us just as we pray to her.

As an adult, Mary has become a much more complicated--and powerful--figure. For one thing, I've come to realize that she was a very young girl when the angel appeared to her to give her the big news. She didn't just blindly accept this life changing moment, but asked questions, pondered, and gave serious consideration to her YES, which was all the more powerful because of it.

And then it comes to the Mary of the Magnificat. She recognizes the great love of God and rejoices in it. Even more, she understands that God is not happy with the status quo nor is God merely awesome and powerful. God shows mercy. God scatters the proud, casts down the mighty, and sends the rich away empty. Meanwhile, God lifts up the lowly, feeds the hungry with "good things" and keeps promises. Sounds an awful lot like the reign of God proclaimed by Jesus, the "fruit of her womb." Mary, it seems was a prophet, and in her daily prayer the Church embraces her wisdom, love and challenge to live into the challenge and promise of the world our God invites us into.

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