“Mondays with Mary” – The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

Since this upcoming Thursday is the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (and my Mom’s Birthday), I wanted to briefly share with you a reflection on Mary and Elizabeth’s encounter as well as Mary’s Magnificat. This is a subject that I have written on numerous times over the 6 years of writing these weekly blog articles. Below you can read the previous articles on the Visitation.

After receiving the news from the Angel at the Annunciation that she would be the Mother of God, Mary quickly departs for the hill country, very similar to King David in the Old Testament, where she goes to serve her cousin, Elizabeth. Two major events of grace occur when she goes to Elizabeth. First, Elizabeth declares by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that Mary is the Mother of her Lord and the child in womb (St. John the Baptist) leapt for joy. Second, the same Holy Spirit inspires Mary to declare her “Magnificat” or song of praise. A song of praise similar to that of Hannah’s hymn, a hymn that we believe Our Lady would have known by memory.

The two reflections below come from the Dictionary of Mary, a book that recently came into my possession. Next week, I will share with you the exciting news of this book and the other 33 books on Our Lady that are now part of my Marian library. I also have 20 or so more books on a wide variety of Catholic topics and theology. Come back next week and hear the story about these books – some that are so old they are no longer in print.

The first reflection on the Visitation is titled – “Blest Is She Who Trusted [Believed]…” –

At the same time, Elizabeth makes known to us the mystery of Mary and the basic reason why she is blessed. The mystery of Mary stems entirely from the privileged bond of her motherhood, which unites her with the “fruit of [her] womb” (Lk 1:42). To capture the spirit of Elizabeth’s greeting, the translation out to read: “Blest are you among women BECAUSE blest is the fruit of your womb.”  The blessedness, the holiness, of the Son is reflected in the Mother. Better still, the Son is cause of the Mother’s holiness. In the estimation of the Evangelists and the first Christians, there is not a more beautiful title for May this one: “Mother of Jesus” (cf. Jn 2:1), “Mother of my Lord.”

But it is a motherhood first received in faith. Mary is most of all believer, a woman who has given a total yes to God’s Word, unlike Zechariah who doubted.

It is this faith of Mary that Elizabeth extols: “Blest is she who trusted [believed] that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45). Luke sees no opposition between Mary’s motherhood and her hearing the Word of God (cf. 11:27-28). On the contrary, he associates one with the other.

Visitation, Oil on Canvas. For more from Steve Bird, visit his website – http://www.stevebirdart.com

The second reflection on the Visitation is titled – Mary’s Thanksgiving

The scene of the Visitation is extended in Mary’s personal act of thanksgiving, the Magnificat. Mary gives her praise for the intervention of God, her Savior, in the stupendous motherhood that is coming to pass within her: “God who is mighty has done great things for me” (1:49).

But Mary’s vision does not stop at herself. It moves over the whole history of Israel, and her thanksgiving take on the accents of a whole people singing the great deeds of God. This woman, “blessed above all women” (cf. Jdt 13:18), belongs entirely to the history of Israel, the long line of men and women who have experienced the extolled the salvation of God. Like them, Mary sings praise to the God faithful to his Covenant, faithful to the Promise made the Fathers.

To learn more about Mary’s Magnificat, I would encourage you to read one of my very first “Mondays with Mary” here.

To read more about the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I would encourage you to check out the seven articles I have written previously –

“Mondays with Mary” – Pope Benedict on the ‘Visitation of Mary’

“Mondays with Mary” – St. Francis de Sales on the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

“Mondays with Mary” – The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

“Mondays with Mary”- The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Take 2

“Mondays with Mary” – ‘Bringing Jesus to Others’ 

“Mondays with Mary” – The Visitation of Mary in Advent 

“Mondays with Mary” – Mary Greets Elizabeth  

“Mondays with Mary” – ‘Mary Greets Elizabeth’

This coming Saturday, in the Latin Church, we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because I believe this to be an important feast of the Church, I have written on this topic numerous times in two and a half years. It’s at the Visitation where Mary greets her older cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant and was known to a barren woman. We also hear Mary’s Song of Praise, the Magnificat, during the Visitation.

For today’s “Mondays with Mary”, I bring you into the mind of one of the great Early Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church, Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. Since St. Athanasius had to battle the Arians in the Early Church, much of his theology focuses on Christology, which in turn led him to defending Mary’s Motherhood and Perpetual Virginity.

Although Mary’s Motherhood (Theotokos) and Perpetual Virginity would not be declared dogmatic till the fifth and seventh centuries, the doctrines were held as truth by many early Church Fathers. Many of them fought with pen and papyrus in defending Mary, which in turn had them defending Jesus Christ. It’s the common understanding that when you state something incorrect about Mary’s nature, you are in fact stating something incorrect about nature of Jesus Christ.

The excerpt below is from St. Athanasius’ Homily of the Papyrus of Turin. In it, he clearly calls out Arius, who thought that Jesus Christ was above man, but below God. For Arius, Jesus Christ is a demi-god like the Marvel Comics hero, THOR.

“[Mary] greets Elizabeth: the Mother of the Master greets [the mother] of the servant; the Mother of the King greets the mother of the solider; the Mother of God greets the mother of the man; the Virgin greets the married woman. She greets Elizabeth with an outward greeting, and when the two greet each other in a visible manner, the Holy Spirit, who dwelt in Mary’s womb, incites him who is in Elizabeth’s womb, as one who urges on his friend, ‘Hurry, get up!’

Visitation of BVM -3

Therefore he who dwelt in Elizabeth’s womb leapt. And behold: [Christ spoke to him] saying, ‘Go forth; make straight my paths, so that I may realize the plan [economy] that has been determined for me.’ When Mary and Elizabeth greeted one another, Christ also greeted John in his mother’s womb, as it is [said] in the Gospel: ‘It happened that, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby stirred in her womb of joy.’

Come now, raving Arius: do you not hear that he who is in Mary’s womb and he who is in Elizabeth’s womb are exchanging greetings, while the son of the barren woman announces to the whole world: ‘Behold the Son of God in the womb of the holy Virgin, Mary.’

But you say, ‘How does this happen?’ Listen, and I will tell you. The moment John heard his Master’s voice, he greeted him through the mouth of his mother, and then he rejoiced and delighted to hasten forth from this mother’s womb, in advance of his Master. Then, unable to contain his joy, he cried out, through his mother’s mouth, addressing the Virgin: ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. But who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?’

My dear friends, do not think that John was the instrument; Elizabeth is the instrument, and John speaks through her mouth. Now, just as John was not an instrument, so also the Savior greets John, by the greeting Mary addresses to Elizabeth through the mouth of his mother.”

Wow…That is one moving excerpt! When we hear the voice of God, the voice of Jesus Christ in our hearts, let us pray that we have the courage, strength, and grace to – Hurry and Get Up! Let us also pray that the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the greeting She and Jesus brings to Elizabeth and John can be brought to each and every one of us.

Source:

Gambero, Luigi. Mary and the Fathers of the Church. Ignatius Press, 1999.

Seven Words of Jesus and Mary, Week 4

Continuing with the six-week Lenten reflection series based on the book, Seven Words of Jesus and Mary, by Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen at Saint Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, here are the quotes and questions that John and I asked yesterday from Chapter 4 – The Fourth Word: Confidence in Victory. This chapter focuses on Mary’s Magnificat and Jesus’ – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Mk. 15:34), which originally comes from Psalm 22:1 (21 in the Septuagint), the great Todah (Thanksgiving) Psalm.

Seven Words of Jesus and Mary

1. “All trusting implies something you cannot see. If you could see, there would be no occasion for trust. When you say you trust a man only insofar as you can see him, you do not trust him at all. Now to trust God means to hold fast to the truth that his purposes are good and holy, not because you see them, but in spite of appearances to the contrary.”

2. “Rather approach him in full confidence and even with the boldness of a loving child who has a right to ask a Father for favors.”

3. “The man without faith was generally surprised at the dark turn of events with two world wars in twenty-one years, the resurgence of barbarism and the abandonment of moral principles. But the man with faith in God was not so surprised. The sun came out just as he had expected; chaos was in the cards though they had not yet been dealt, for he knew that ‘unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it’ (Ps 126:1).”

4. “Evil will never be able to be stronger than on that particular day, for the worst thing that evil can do is not to ruin cities and to wage wars…against the good and the living. The worst thing that evil can do is to kill God..”

5. “Though he may not grant all your wants, be sure that, in a certain sense, there is no unanswered prayer…Do not forget either that there are not two kinds of prayers to prayer, but three: One is ‘Yes.’ Another is ‘No.’ The third is ‘Wait.”

Questions: 

1. With all the evil and sin in the world, how does a Christian remain steadfast in knowing that in the end the final victory belongs to Christ and those who follow his teachings?

2. What would the Jews standing around the cross have thought when they heard Christ cry out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

3. In Heaven, Christ still bears the wounds of his Crucifixion. Explain the significance of this teaching.

 

“Mondays with Mary” – Mary and the Word of God

During the month of November, I taught a class for men studying for the permanent diaconate here in the Diocese of Phoenix. One of the texts we used for the short 5-week course was Verbum Domini, the Apostolic Exhortation written by Pope Benedict XVI on the Word of the Lord. This document essentially picks up where Dei Verbum leaves off. Dei Verbum is the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation from the Second Vatican Council.

As we studied this document, the men found the text to come alive, which made them desire the Holy Scriptures even more. There are many great teachings that come from this text, but for today I would like to focus on paragraphs 27 and 28 – Mary, “Mother of God’s Word” and “Mother of Faith.” As we know, Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, plays an integral role in Salvation History. Her “Yes” at the Annunciation does more for humanity than any human person before her and after her. Not only is she the highest created creature in all of Heaven, she is also truly the Un-Tier of Knots, the Immaculate Conception, Ever-Virgin, Advocating Mother, Mediatrix of All Grace, Mother of Fairest Love, Morning Star, and the Theotokos.

As is the case with Mary in all of Salvation History, she does not lead us away from Jesus Christ, but brings us to closer to him. She is our Queen Mother who brings our petitions to the King. Just as with our prayers, Mary leads us closer to the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures. In her Magnificat, she embraces the Word of God, which was always close to her heart.

Mary Ponders The Word of God

To help us reflect on Mary’s role in relation to the Holy Scriptures, below are seven quotes from Verbum Domini. Read through them, then read them again, and reflect this week on how Mary can help bring you closer to the Word of God in the Sacred Scriptures –

1. “From the Annunciation to Pentecost she appears as a woman completely open to the will of God. She is the Immaculate Conception, the one whom God made “full of grace” (cf. Lk 1:28) and unconditionally docile to his word (cf. Lk 1:38). Her obedient faith shapes her life at every moment before God’s plan.”

2. “A Virgin ever attentive to God’s word, she lives completely attuned to that word; she treasures in her heart the events of her Son, piecing them together as if in a single mosaic (cf. Lk 2:19,51).”

3. “The incarnation of the word cannot be conceived apart from the freedom of this young woman who by her assent decisively cooperated with the entrance of the eternal into time. Mary is the image of the Church in attentive hearing of the word of God, which took flesh in her.”

4. “She speaks and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God.”

5. “Our apostolic and pastoral work can never be effective unless we learn from Mary how to be shaped by the working of God within us: “devout and loving attention to the figure of Mary as the model and archetype of the Church’s faith…”

6. “As we contemplate in the Mother of God a life totally shaped by the word, we realize that we too are called to enter into the mystery of faith, whereby Christ comes to dwell in our lives.”

7. “Every Christian believer, Saint Ambrose reminds us, in some way interiorly conceives and gives birth to the word of God: even though there is only one Mother of Christ in the flesh, in the faith Christ is the progeny of us all. Thus, what took place for Mary can daily take place in each of us, in the hearing of the word and in the celebration of the sacraments.”

“Mondays with Mary” – ‘Mary, Mother of God’s Word’

As I was preparing to teach Section 1 of Pope Benedict’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini, I read his striking words on how Mary play’s such an important part in knowing the deep realities of the Word of God. It is through her “Yes” that we come to know Jesus Christ and it is through her “Yes” that the new covenant begins. From the Annunciation to Pentecost Sunday, Mary is the obedient woman of faith always seeking and ready to do the will of God. She is open and prepared to hear the Word of God in her heart and mind.

As Catholics, we should always be striving to be more like Mary and her Fiat (“Yes”) towards God. The Church is first Marian before she is Petrine. Hans Urs von Balthasar said, “Before men were placed into office, the whole Church was present in Mary.” The Marian dimension allows the Petrine to exist in the Church.

I suggest you read and pray through the words of Pope Benedict XVI. He opens our hearts and minds to Mary and her relationship to the Word of God as he says,

“In our day the faithful need to be helped to see more clearly the link between Mary of Nazareth and the faith-filled hearing of God’s word. I would encourage scholars as well to study the relationship between Mariology and the theology of the word. This could prove most beneficial both for the spiritual life and for theological and biblical studies. Indeed, what the understanding of the faith has enabled us to know about Mary stands at the heart of Christian truth. The incarnation of the word cannot be conceived apart from the freedom of this young woman who by her assent decisively cooperated with the entrance of the eternal into time. Mary is the image of the Church in attentive hearing of the word of God, which took flesh in her. Mary also symbolizes openness to God and others; an active listening which interiorizes and assimilates, one in which the word becomes a way of life.

Here I would like to mention Mary’s familiarity with the word of God. This is clearly evident in the Magnificat. There we see in some sense how she identifies with the word, enters into it; in this marvelous canticle of faith, the Virgin sings the praises of the Lord in his own words: ‘The Magnificat – a portrait, so to speak, of her soul – is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the word of God. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate.’

Mary Ponders The Word of God

Furthermore, in looking to the Mother of God, we see how God’s activity in the world always engages our freedom, because through faith the divine word transforms us. Our apostolic and pastoral work can never be effective unless we learn from Mary how to be shaped by the working of God within us: ‘devout and loving attention to the figure of Mary as the model and archetype of the Church’s faith is of capital importance for bringing about in our day a concrete paradigm shift in the Church’s relation with the word, both in prayerful listening and in generous commitment to mission and proclamation.’

As we contemplate in the Mother of God a life totally shaped by the word, we realize that we too are called to enter into the mystery of faith, whereby Christ comes to dwell in our lives. Every Christian believer, Saint Ambrose reminds us, in some way interiorly conceives and gives birth to the word of God: ‘even though there is only one Mother of Christ in the flesh, in the faith Christ is the progeny of us all. Thus, what took place for Mary can daily take place in each of us, in the hearing of the word and in the celebration of the sacraments.’

If you have been reading “Mondays with Mary” over the weeks in September, October, and November, you would have seen what Pope Benedict XVI asks for in this section. He says, “I would encourage scholars as well to study the relationship between Mariology and the theology of the word. This could prove most beneficial both for the spiritual life and for theological and biblical studies.”

By no means am I a biblical scholar, but I have tried to provide my readers with an understanding between Mariology and the theology of the word in the blog posts about Mary in the Old Testament and New Testament. If you have not read these previous posts, it’s my hope that you can read them soon.

Mary’s role in Salvation History is fundamentally important for the life of the Church, however, her role in relation to the Word of God is just as important. Next time you read the Scriptures on our own, read them in the daily missal at Mass, or just listen to them at Mass, ask that the Blessed Mother help you to take the Word of God to your heart and say – “Yes!”

“Mondays with Mary” – The Magnificat

This post should have been part of the blog from last Monday on the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, however with last week being Final Exams week for my students and with there being limited time, I chose to move this important prayer of the Blessed Mother to this week. The Magnificat is one of the important prayers of the Church because it is recited daily (Evening Prayer) in the official prayer of the Church – The Liturgy of Hours. The Magnificat gives us beautiful images from the Old Testament readings we see in the Psalms, Sirach, and Habakkuk. It is also the prayer that mirrors Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2.

Please read them both fully and then we will proceed with the explanation of both scripture passages. Bolded are similarities between the two passages.

Hannah’s Prayer – 1 Samuel 2:1-10

My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides you; there is no rock like God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to be hungry. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exults. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the need from the dung heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful ones; but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”

Mary’s Magnificat – Luke 1:46-56

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he had regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for has done great things for me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with him arm, he has scattered the proud in their imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree, he has filled the hungry with good things, and rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”

Being a faithful and obedient Jewish woman, Mary would have know Hannah’s prayer by memorization. For the Jews, memorizing the Scriptures was of utmost importance. Modern Biblical Scholarship will try to say that St. Luke found the Magnificat prayer and placed it in his Gospel to bring balance and support his account. However, this brings scandal to the words of our Blessed Mother and her ability to give praise and honor to God Almighty. It really makes me upset when I hear people state that Mary would have never recited this words. It shows complete and total ignorance on their part for they clearly don’t understand the importance of Mary’s role in Salvation History.

When we read both of these prayers, there are obvious similarities. The very first lines of both passages speak of the Lord exulting and magnifying as well as spirit and strength. Both passages speak of how the Lord gives strength to the spirit and lifts up the heart and soul. Further along in both passages, we see how God strikes down his adversaries who are the mighty and the proud and raises up those of low degree (the poor). Both passages also speak of how the Lord will exalt his anointed and remember the mercy that he conveyed upon Abraham and other covenant mediators (David was called “anointed” – also known as Messiah). Lastly, both passages speak of filling the hungry with good things. The good things could be understood as gifts from God.

Now I want to explain what some of the verses mean in the Magnificat itself:

  1. Luke 1:48 – “all generations will call me blessed” speaks of the royal role that Mary will play throughout Salvation History. Let us not forget that Mary is the Queen Mother of the NEW Davidic King, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the New David and Royal High Priest.
  2. Luke 1:49 – “for he who is mighty has done great things for me” is Mary sharing for the first time God’s primary revelation as well as this new “self-giving” of God. These words spoken by Mary, mirrors her overwhelming joy that she has experienced through God (Redemptoris Mater – Mother of the Redeemer, Blessed John Paul II).
  3. Luke 1:50 & 54 – speaks of the term mercy. The term mercy means hesed, a Hebrew word that is defined as covenant fidelity. In Greek, it means eleos (Kyrie elesion – “Lord have mercy”). Covenant fidelity is what God establishes with the Old Testament mediators (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the Prophets and David) when he forms a covenant with them. Jesus Christ would be the fulfillment of these covenants and then establish a NEW Covenant in Luke 22 at the Last Supper. A covenant is extension of kinship by oath. So when Mary says “And his mercy is on those who fear him” and “in remembrance of his mercy” she is really saying that God will remain faithful to the covenants he formed with Abraham and other mediators as well. (Read Zechariah’s Prophecy – Luke 1:68-79 and Psalm 51 and insert the term hesed – covenant fidelity and watch how the whole scripture passage becomes clearer).
  4. Luke 1:48 & 52 – “for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” and “exalted those of low degree” simply means that Mary is poor. Her poverty reflects the Church’s mission of serving the poor and it shows the important emphasis the Church places on those of low degree. The Catholic Church today is the world’s leader in serving the poor despite what others claim. Blessed John Paul II in Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer) said, “Mary is deeply imbued with the spirit of the “poor of Yahweh,” who in the prayer of the psalms awaited from God their salvation…Mary truly proclaims the coming of the “messiah of the poor.”” God’s love for the poor would be fulfilled in the words of Jesus Christ.

As we have seen, the Virgin’s Magnificat is important and an essential prayer that lives in the Church yesterday, today, and forever. It is a prayer that every Bible believing Christian should know and recite often.

In the document, Marialis Cultus – For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Paul VI says, “this prayer is the Magnificat (cf. Lk 1:46-55), Mary’s prayer par excellence, the song of the messianic times in which there mingles the joy of the ancient and the new Israel. As St. Irenaeus seems to suggest, it is in Mary’s canticle that there was heard once more the rejoicing of Abraham who foresaw the Messiah (cf. Jn 8:56), and there rang out in prophetic anticipation the voice of the Church: “In her exultation Mary prophetically declared in the name of the Church: ‘My soul proclaims the glory of the Lord…’” And in fact Mary’s hymn has spread far and wide and has become the prayer of the whole Church in all ages.”