Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as recorded in the Gospel according Luke (1:39-57). It marks a moment of particular beauty and quiet profundity in the story of our restoration and redemption. In it, not only do St. Mary and St. Elizabeth greet each other, but the still-unborn St. John the Baptist acknowledges the presence of the soon-t0-be revealed Savior. It is a story of exquisite tenderness and yet also strength.
Part of the Gospel reading for this day is the Song of Mary, often referred to by its Latin title Magnificat. In these verses, the Blessed Virgin offers a prayer of praise and power that already contains the kernel of the Gospel to be preached by her son and Lord. The Church sings/says this prayer almost every evening of the year in the Daily Office.
Below are words of St. Bede the Venerable (673-735) from a sermon he preached on this passage. Note how St. Bede (whose name means “prayer”) connects the blessed God-bearer, our own daily prayer, and our discipleship with the redemptive work of God in Christ: for indeed, they are all one.
May you ponder in peace the mystery of God’s love and presence through Mary’s son and our Savior—and may you be given grace to live our shared faith in simplicity and holiness of life.
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My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
With these words Mary first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God’s universal favors, bestowed unceasingly on the human race.
Rejoice in God’s greatness
When a person devotes all one’s thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, that person proclaims God’s greatness. Such observance of God’s commands, moreover, shows this person has God’s power and greatness always at heart. Such a one’s spirit rejoices in God as savior and delights in the mere recollection of the creator who gives hope for eternal salvation.
These words are often for all God’s creations, but especially for the Mother of God. She alone was chosen, and she burned with spiritual love for the son she so joyously conceived. Above all other saints, she alone could truly rejoice in Jesus, her savior, for she knew that he who was the source of eternal salvation would be born in time in her body, in one person both her own son and her Lord.
For the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
Mary attributes nothing to her own merits. She refers all her greatness to the gift of the one whose essence is power and whose nature is greatness, for he fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in him.
She did well to add: and holy is his name, to warn those who heard, and indeed all who would receive his words, that they must believe and call upon his name. For they too could share in everlasting holiness and true salvation according to the words of the prophet: and it will come to pass, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This is the name she spoke of earlier: and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
Therefore it is an excellent and fruitful custom of holy Church that we should sing Mary’s hymn at the time of evening prayer. By meditating upon the incarnation, our devotion is kindled, and by remembering the example of God’s Mother, we are encouraged to lead a life of virtue. Such virtues are best achieved in the evening. We are weary after the day’s work and worn out by our distractions. The time for rest is near, and our minds are ready for contemplation.
The Collect for the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
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.