The church today recalls the visit of Elizabeth to her cousin Mary, as recorded in Luke’s gospel. The celebration of the feast first occurred at a Franciscan Order General Chapter in 1263 but quickly spread throughout Europe. Since it is a celebration clearly described in the gospel, the churches of the Reformation were less inclined to proscribe it as they were other Marian feasts, particularly as it was the occasion for Mary to sing her great hymn of praise in honour of her Lord and God. Just as Luke sees John the Baptist as the last of the prophets of the old covenant, he uses John’s leaping in Elizabeth’s womb as the first time John bears witness to Christ as the promised Messiah. Thereby he links the old covenant with the new. He seems to be saying that just as the old covenant clearly points to Jesus, so does its last prophet, yet to be born.
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
by whose grace Elizabeth rejoiced with Mary
and greeted her as the mother of the Lord:
look with favour on your lowly servants
that, with Mary, we may magnify your holy name
and rejoice to acclaim her Son our Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Give praise, you servants of the Lord,
O praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord,
from this time forth and for evermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
let the name of the Lord be praised.
The Lord is high above all nations
and his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
that has his throne so high,
yet humbles himself to behold
the things of heaven and earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ashes,
To set them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a place in the house
and makes her a joyful mother of children.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.’
Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.
A week ago, on the day after Pentecost, the Church entered the long ‘green’ season of Ordinary Time. I have always struggled with this. Surely, immediately after celebrating the coming of the promised Advocate, nothing can ever be ‘ordinary’ again. Today’s celebration of Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth emphasizes this point. Both Mary and Elizabeth were expecting children, special children, children destined to play their part in creating a new covenant between God and humanity.
As we know, Mary was visited by an angel and said, ‘Yes’, to playing her part in God’s plan. Mary, to many the first and most loyal of disciples, accepted the role of Theotokos, the God-bearer, the one chosen to be the mother of the Son of God: Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah.
The story of Elizabeth’s pregnancy was no less amazing. Her husband, the priest Zechariah, also received an angelic visitation. Like Mary, Elizabeth had been chosen by God, chosen to bear the forerunner of Mary’s divine child. But Elizabeth was beyond the age and physical capability of child-bearing, and yet this was the choice that had been made by God: the virgin and the ageing woman were to play key roles in the Incarnation of the long-awaited Messiah.
What must it have felt like for those two vulnerable women? At which point did human uncertainty turn into the realization of the blindingly obvious? When did they stop seeking human explanations for their pregnancies and realize that they were experiencing a fulfilment of what [had been spoken] by the Lord? How must they have felt when they realized that they had truly been chosen by God?
The message of today’s reading centres on the reality of God’s call to all of us. Many people experience a moment of spiritual intimacy with God. They simply ‘know’ that they are being called to do a job by God. Sadly, and unlike Mary and Elizabeth, they convince themselves that that divine call is a flight of egocentric fantasy. Unlike Mary and Elizabeth, they say, ‘No’, to God and shrink back into those ordinary days that seem to deny God’s power and wisdom. Ordinary time becomes just that: ordinary and God-less.
But … we have received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. The power of God is coursing through our very beings. Let us pray that we might never forget that, and that we might join Mary and Elizabeth in saying ‘Yes’, and not, ‘No’, or ‘Maybe’, to God. Let us journey on making this year’s season of Ordinary Time the most extra-ordinary ever.
Prayers of intercession
Let us magnify the Lord in our prayers.
May the Church for ever proclaim your glory and rejoice in the good news of salvation. Draw together into one family all who share the faith of Christ.
Give the grace of humility to all who hold power in the world. Have mercy on all people, open the closed eyes and soften the hard hearts until your name is honoured in every nation.
We pray for our families and give thanks for the love we have in them. Bless all mothers and fill them with gentle care for one another.
Look with compassion on women who are sick and weary with concern for their children. Give relief to the poor. Restore comfort and dignity to all who feel themselves despised and disregarded.
We give thanks for the departed whose human love has been raised and transformed into the love of heaven. May they share the joy of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints.
We offer our prayers through Jesus Christ whose name is for ever holy.
Prayer for the week
May we accept this day at your hand, O Lord,
as a gift to be treasured,
a life to be enjoyed,
a trust to be kept,
and a hope to be fulfilled;
and all for your glory.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Once again we tell the story –
how your love for us was shown,
when the image of your glory
wore an image like our own.
Come, enlighten with your wisdom,
come and fill us with your grace.
May the fire of your compassion
kindle every land and race.
Marty Haugen (b. 1950)