What is the Significance of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

What is the Significance of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

Written by Rachel Kell, a Catholic wife, mother of four, and blogger at www.rachelkell.com

Mary is an inextricable part of the salvation story from Genesis through Revelation. The emphasis placed on her role in God’s Kingdom is why we revere her as a great role model of our faith. But so much of what we learn about her can seem unrelatable. It’s difficult to imagine a life “full of grace” as she lived it. It’s not a common experience to have an angel appear and announce your vocation clearly with a Q&A to follow. The most natural of birthing rooms are a far cry from a stable in Bethlehem, and it feels impossible to even approach Mary’s experience from Calvary to the Resurrection.

But in the Visitation, we meet Mary in a relatable place of simple relationship.

The Visitation picks up right where the Annunciation (you can read more about that HERE) leaves off. “Immediately”, in some interpretations, after hearing that she will bear God’s child, Mary departs “in haste” to make the 80-mile trek to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Why? Because in the midst of making the most significant declaration in Salvation History, the Angel Gabriel also told Mary that Elizabeth was with child by the grace of God.

How beautiful, to have a God who equips us for the journey He assigns us.

We often think of “being equipped” as having certain characteristics conducive to the tasks God gives us, or perhaps having the right compilation of experiences that make us ready for our calling. But in the Visitation God gives Mary a human presence who could fully recognize and confirm the magnitude of her experience. He equips her with relationship.

Imagine you are Mary. You’ve been wondering how to put words to your experience of the Annunciation. You believe the truth of your situation while knowing that others would have reason to question it. You finally reach Elizabeth’s door with exhaustion born of anticipation, and are received by her perfect confirmation and joy; the Holy Spirit was working within Elizabeth as she declared, “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.” (Luke 1:42-45).

If you read that passage from Luke like we often read scripture, with formal reserve, I encourage you to read it again. This time, imagine you are Elizabeth. You have been in seclusion for five months (Luke 1:24). You are overcome with awe at your own ability to bear a child, and are overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit to know with certainty that the woman walking toward you is the Mother of the Lord. When you hear Mary’s greeting you feel the child within you leap, and you are fully aware through the Holy Spirit that you are in the presence of the Lord.

This is not the Visitation so often depicted in paintings, where Mary and Elizabeth solemnly greet one another, stoically embrace, or stand together in calm peace. This is a Holy Spirit-infused interaction between two women who have just encountered direct communication from God through angelic revelation. There is tangible joy. There is movement within a womb. There is a recognition of holy womanhood, without which the Incarnation could not see fruition.

From that inspired place I can imagine the Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary, pouring out of Our Lady in an emotional release of all that the Holy Spirit revealed to her since the Annunciation. I imagine her struggling to catch her breath as the divine words flow out of her mouth, and I hear gasps of tears intermittently as she sees her words received in their fullness and without question by Elizabeth:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
because he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant.
Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.

Holy is his name, and his faithful love extends age after age to those who fear him.
He has used the power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly.
He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his faithful love -
according to the promise he made to our ancestors -
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary then mirrored Jesus in the washing of the feet as she, the Mother of God, stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months in a role of service. Interestingly though, the details of what they were “doing” during this time are not chronicled—only the details of their “being” together are written down.

In a world so attuned to the “doing” of life—where our worth is ranked by our busyness and our identities are formed by our jobs—it is a vitally important reminder that we are called to “be” for one another as well. This is not passive work. For Mary, “being” there for Elizabeth required an 80-mile journey. And we cannot forget that Elizabeth was also crucially there for Mary, receiving her as the Mother of God before Mary ever spoke those words. For Elizabeth, the preparation to “be” there for Mary was 5 months of seclusion, getting her to a quiet place where she could recognize the presence of the Lord within the womb.

The Visitation provides a model of relationship that is both beautiful and challenging. Are we bold enough to claim the people God has set aside to equip us for our calling? Are we disciplined enough to quiet distractions so we don’t miss it when Jesus shows up within the person at our door? Are we patient enough to simply “be” with another, to receive them fully both as they are and as God created them to be?

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