The story of the Visitation between Mary and her relative Elizabeth in the Gospel according to Luke is a moment of beauty and of mystery. It is, at heart, the story of an encounter… but what a complex encounter: between a very young mother-to-be and a very old mother-to-be, between the herald of the Word Incarnate and the One he heralds, between the mystery of birth and the mystery of death and resurrection, between the Old and the New in every way.
This is a holy encounter in more than one way. It points to the potentiality of holiness in all encounters we may have as Christians. What gets lost so often is our intentionality: we forget that we have been given the Holy Spirit in baptism, and that this Spirit reaches out to others—other members of Christ’s Body, and to the Image of God found buried in those who are not yet members of that Mystical Body. It is this intentionality we celebrate today, the intention, the faithfulness that allows both Mary and Elizabeth to transcend their own partial understanding of the sacredness of their encounter. Elizabeth honors Mary as Blessed, and Mary praises God in the words of the Magnificat.
In St. Ambrose’s commentary on Luke, we find these words about the Visitation, and about the power of God working through humans to give glory to God even as we are exalted in him:
Let Mary’s soul be in each of you to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let her spirit be in each to rejoice in the Lord. Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith. Every soul receives the Word of God if only it keeps chaste, remaining pure and free from sin, its modesty undefiled. The soul that succeeds in this proclaims the greatness of the Lord, just as Mary’s soul magnified the Lord and her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior. In another place we read: Magnify the Lord with me. The Lord is magnified, not because the human voice can add anything to God but because he is magnified within us. Christ is the image of God, and if the soul does what is right and holy, it magnifies that image of God, in whose likeness it was created and, in magnifying the image of God, the soul has a share in its greatness and is exalted.
Collect of the Visitation
Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.