Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

Last year my wife Christene and I were blessed with the chance to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  One of the final places we visited on that journey was the Church of the Visitation where (perhaps) the Virgin Mary came to visit her elderly but pregnant relative Elizabeth (it certainly is the location of the cool statue pictured here).  In the Western Church, the Visitation is traditionally celebrated today, May 31. 

The Visitation is recorded in Luke chapter 1 and gives us some of the Bible's loftiest language in celebration of the Virgin Mary and her unique place in salvation history: Elizabeth calls Mary by the title "Mother of my Lord" and greets her (by the Holy Spirit's prompting) with the words: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb..." (v.42)  I might also suggest that when John the Baptist "jumps" in the womb for joy at the presence of Mary and (presumably) of the fetal Jesus as well in this passage (v.41 & 44) we are also given a very profound insight into the sacred humanity of unborn children still in the womb. 

While Mariology has often been a dividing point between Roman Catholic (and Orthodox) and Protestant Christians, these verses provide us with the core of a Mariology that is both catholic and reformed: catholic in that we seek to celebrate Mary as the church across the ages has always done (not ignore her as some Protestants have done), and reformed in that we want our celebration of Mary to be in keeping with the Biblical witness so as not to stray into the worship of Mary or exalting her out of proportion - which she herself would flatly reject and abhor.

It is on this occasion that Mary, the Mother of our Lord, speaks the words now known as The Magnificat: "My soul magnifies the Lord..." (see Luke 1:46-55); these words of St. Mary the Virgin have come to be recited and sung all across the ecumenical church as one example of a truly "catholic" and thoroughly Biblical way of honoring Mary.  The Visitation is one of two "Marian feasts" (the other being the Anunciation) for which our United Methodist Book of Worship provides liturgical resources, including this prayer:

Almighty God, you inspired the Virgin Mary, mother of your Son, to visit Elizabeth and assist her in her need.  Keep us open to the working of your Spirit, and with Mary may we praise you for ever.  We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.    (The United Methodist Book of Worship, 257)

In celebration of the Visitation today, there is a video below of the choir at Westminster Abbey singing an arrangement of the "Magnificat" at Evensong (Vespers/Evening Prayer) on the occasion of Pope Benedict's visit to England in 2012.  The "Magnificat" is a standard element of the Anglican Evening Prayer service (see The Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 119 and 113) and also of the United Methodist Order for Evening Praise and Prayer (see The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 575) because the Methodist service - like most all of our liturgy - flows out of the Anglican liturgical tradition.

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