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Visitation Is Prelude to Jesus' Mission

by Pope John Paul II

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    Pope John Paul II's General Audience, October 2, 1996.
  • Publisher & Date:
    Vatican, October 2, 1996

1. In the Visitation episode, St Luke shows how the grace of the Incarnation, after filling Mary, brings salvation and joy to Elizabeth's house. The Saviour of men, carried in his Mother's womb pours out the Holy Spirit, revealing himself from the very start of his coming into the world.

In describing Mary's departure for Judea, the Evangelist uses the verb "anistemi", which means "to arise", "to start moving". Considering that this verb is used in the Gospels to indicate Jesus' Resurrection (Mk 8:31; 9:9,31, Lk 24:7, 46) or physical actions that imply a spiritual effort (Lk 5:27-28; 15:18,20), we can suppose that Luke wishes to stress with this expression the vigorous zeal which led Mary, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to give the world its Saviour.

Meeting with Elizabeth is a joyous saving event

2. The Gospel text also reports that Mary made the journey "with haste" (Lk 1:39). Even the note "into the hill country" (Lk 1:39), in the Lucan context, appears to be much more than a simple topographical indication, since it calls to mind the messenger of good news described in the Book of Isaiah: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion: 'Your God reigns"' (Is 52:7).

Like St Paul, who recognizes the fulfilment of this prophetic text in the preaching of the Gospel (Rom 10:15), St Luke also seems to invite us to see Mary as the first "evangelist", who spreads the "good news", initiating the missionary journeys of her divine Son.

Lastly, the direction of the Blessed Virgin's journey is particularly significant: it will be from Galilee to Judea, like Jesus' missionary journey (cf. 9:51).

Mary's visit to Elizabeth, in fact, is a prelude to Jesus' mission and, in cooperating from the beginning of her motherhood in the Son's redeeming work, she becomes the model for those in the Church who set out to bring Christ's light and joy to the people of every time and place.

3. The meeting with Elizabeth has the character of a joyous saving event that goes beyond the spontaneous feelings of family sentiment. Where the embarrassment of disbelief seems to be expressed in Zechariah's muteness, Mary bursts out with the joy of her quick and ready faith: "She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth" (Lk 1:40).

St Luke relates that "when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb" (Lk 1:41). Mary's greeting caused Elizabeth's son to leap for joy: Jesus' entrance into Elizabeth's house, at Mary's doing, brought the unborn prophet that gladness which the Old Testament foretells as a sign of the Messiah's presence.

At Mary's greeting, messianic joy comes over Elizabeth too and "filled with the Holy Spirit ... she exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!'" (Lk 1:41-42).

By a higher light, she understands Mary's greatness: more than Jael and Judith, who prefigured her in the Old Testament, she is blessed among women because of the fruit of her womb, Jesus the Messiah.

4. Elizabeth's exclamation, made "with a loud cry", shows a true religious enthusiasm, which continues to be echoed on the lips of believers in the prayer "Hail Mary", as the Church's song of praise for the great works accomplished by the Most High in the Mother of his Son.

In proclaiming her "blessed among women", Elizabeth points to Mary's faith as the reason for her blessedness: "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Lk 1:45). Mary's greatness and joy arise from the fact the she is the one who believes.

In view of Mary's excellence, Elizabeth also understands what an honour her visit is for her: "And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43). With the expression "my Lord", Elizabeth recognizes the royal, indeed messianic, dignity of Mary's Son. In the Old Testament this expression was in fact used to address the king (cf. 1 Kgs 1:13,20,21 etc.) and to speak of the Messiah King

(Ps 110:1). The angel had said of Jesus: "The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David" (Lk 1:32). "Filled with the Holy Spirit", Elizabeth has the same insight. Later, the paschal glorification of Christ will reveal the sense in which this title is to be understood, that is, a transcendent sense (cf. Jn 20 28; Acts 2:34-36).

Mary is present in whole work of divine salvation

With her admiring exclamation, Elizabeth invites us to appreciate all that the Virgin's presence brings as a gift to the life of every believer.

In the Visitation, the Virgin brings Christ to the Baptist's mother, the Christ who pours out the Holy Spirit. This role of mediatrix is brought out by Elizabeth's very words: "For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy" (Lk 1:44). By the gift of the Holy Spirit, Mary's presence serves as a prelude to Pentecost, confirming a co- operation which, having begun with the Incarnation, is destined to be expressed in the whole work of divine salvation.

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