Today (May 31st), we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of Mary. One might wonder why this feast falls at this time of year. We are in Ordinary Time. However, yesterday, for our Sunday Mass we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity as we do each year the first Sunday after Pentecost. Next Sunday we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ as we do each year on the second Sunday after Pentecost.
So, does the timing of today’s feast relate to Pentecost? No. In fact, it relates to Christmas. To understand this, we need to reflect on what it is that we celebrate in Mary’s Visitation. Mary had just learned (Luke 1:26-38) from the angel Gabriel that she had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus. Jesus is conceived in her womb. She is pregnant. Gabriel also told her that her relative Elizabeth had conceived “in her old age.” The child in Elizabeth’s womb is John the Baptist.
Hearing this news, Mary goes to Elizabeth, a journey of about 80 miles. She does not go to boast of herself as the mother of Jesus. She goes to share her joy with Elizabeth who is also pregnant by the grace of God.
What does this have to do with the timing of today’s feast of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56)? From what scripture tells us, we know the visitation happened when both Mary and Elizabeth were pregnant. We celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th. Nine months before that, March 25th, we celebrate the Annunciation, when Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb. We celebrate the Birth of John the Baptist on June 24th. That means the Visitation must have happened between March 25th and June 24th. Knowing the 80 mile journey would have taken some time in that day, we celebrate the Visitation on May 31st.
It is a feast rich with meaning. In addition to what I have already said, it is also a feast that speaks to us today of life in the womb. When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s house, John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb at the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb. If both John the Baptist and Jesus were not “alive” in their mothers’ wombs, how could John have reacted in this way? Life begins at conception.
This feast is also a lesson in humility. Mary did not seek honor for herself in being chosen as the mother of Jesus. She was joyful and she shared her joy with Elizabeth. When Elizabeth praised Mary, Mary gave glory to God, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.“
Mary knew she held a special place as the Mother of Jesus. She knew this is nothing something she did for herself. She knew it was God who did “great things” for her. She gave the glory to God. We do well to follow her example, giving glory to God for what He has done in us.