A stained glass window in Saint Jacques's Church


A Historic Visit

Lectio Divina: 4th Sunday of Advent, Year C

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Roman Rite

Mi 5.1 to 4; Ps 80; Heb 10.5 to 10; Lk 1,39-45

Ambrosian Rite

6th Sunday of Advent

Is 62, 10-63,3b; Ps 72; Phil 4.4 to 9; Lk 1, 26-38a

Sunday or of the Incarnation of the Divine Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

1) A yes of faith that becomes the path of charity.

After answering «yes» to the announcement by the angel Gabriel, the Virgin Mother of the one who will be called «Son of the Most High» goes to the cousin Elizabeth, who – although very advanced in years – is now pregnant.  As soon as the elderly relative sees Maria coming, thanks to the jump of joy of the child she is carrying, she recognizes that in front of her there is someone great. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and gives his welcome to Mary exclaiming: «Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb» (Lk 1: 41-42). Blessed because she believed in the word of the Lord.

Today’s Gospel passage is centered on the scene of the meeting between the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. To make this meeting of the charity happen, Mary went on a journey of mercy moved by a wonder full of gratitude for what has happened to her and that she carries in her womb. It is thanks to the steps of Mary that, even before birth, Jesus is on his journey through the world going toward humanity. This path is an example for our «duty» to make our journey on the roads of men and women to bring the light of the Gospel to those who do not know him.

The Evangelist Luke does not mention the words of greeting that Mary gives to Elizabeth when she arrives at her house. This silence is meaningful. Just because no words are spoken, the greeting of Mary focuses on her person, not on what eventually she has to say. In the foreground is the voice (see Lk 1:44): not the words of Mary had startled the baby, but her voice. It is in the voice of Mary that the child John perceives the presence of the waited Messiah.

Mary’s greeting, then, is not simply a form of courtesy, but an expression of love. Mary’s greeting touches the whole being of Elizabeth, causing her to startle with joy through the jump of John in the womb of the once barren mother. It is a greeting that alludes to the new life that has blossomed in the womb of both, and that is a sign of the salvation inaugurated by God. Even Elizabeth is filled with amazement at what is happening and for the visit of the Lord brought by her cousin Mary. Hers is a wonder that questions: «How does it happen that the mother of my Lord should come to me?» To this question, Our Lady responds by singing a hymn of faith and thanksgiving to God, the Magnificat, which comes just after the passage of today’s Gospel. Maybe this Song was born in Mary during the journey on foot – about some 150 kilometers – to get to Ain Karim, a village at 7 or 8 kilometers far from Jerusalem where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived.

When we recite the Magnificat, especially in the evening at the end of Vespers, we try to empathize with Mary and to look at our lives as she looked at hers: with eyes of faith. Let us imitate Mary, who had a strong faith, gentle charity, sincere humility and the joy of bringing Christ to the world.

2) A yes humble and virginal, therefore maternal.

In the Magnificat, Mary manifests the two fundamental lines along which God acts in history. First of all, the knowledge that salvation comes only from the free initiative of God and his merciful loyalty. Second – contrary to human logic – this salvation is accomplished in the history of  the Biblical “anawim”, those faithful who identify themselves as «poor» not only in detachment from all idolatry of wealth and power, but also in the profound humility of  the heart. It is through the «poor”, the pure and simple of heart and the humble that God continues His plan of salvation for humanity.

The Virgin Mary in her hymn sings that humility is pleasing to God and how she has been chosen to be the Mother of Jesus because of her humbleness. The humility of Mary was the suitable soil for the realization of God’s plan. In a beautiful homily, St. Bernard of Clairvaux highlights the greatness of the humility in Mary, not hesitating to attribute to it priority over virginity. «A beautiful union – wrote the abbot of Clairvaux – of virginity with humility. Very pleasing to God is the soul in which humility values virginity, and virginity adorns humility … Without humility I dare say that even the virginity of Mary would have not be pleasing to God … So if Mary  had not been humble, the Holy Spirit would not have come down on her … It is therefore clear that, since she  conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, ‘God, as she sings, looked at the humility of his handmaid’ (Lk 1:48) rather than at her virginity . If she was liked for her virginity, she conceived because of her humility. Indeed, it is also clear that if virginity was liked, it was certainly in view of her humility. «

But humility is not an end in itself, it is aimed at the splendor of charity and in Mary there was the union «of very high charity and a profound humility» (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux).

In the Visitation to Elizabeth, Mary, «Virgin Mother, humble and exalted more than any creature» (Dante), carries in her womb the Word made flesh and becomes in some way a «tabernacle» – the first «tabernacle» in history – in which the Son of God, still invisible to the eyes of men,  gives himself to the worship of Elizabeth, almost «radiating» his light through the eyes and the voice of Mary «(St. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharist, number 5) .

Mary is not so much a creature who knows as a creature that believes because she has grace and faith. She becomes a figure of the Church who, in faith, welcomes her Savior and brings him into the world so that all humanity can rejoice.

Of this pastoral of the Visitation, the consecrated Virgins in the world are an example. With their “secular “work they become missionaries of love walking daily with their brothers and sisters in humanity, so that they can have the joy of being considered and loved.

This involvement is inspired by the virginal love for the Lord Jesus, loved above all thing and made loved by all. These consecrated women testify that the true Christian transforms into charity everything he or she touches: he or she transforms into charity his or her work, his or her life, his or her prayer and relationship with others. Whatever the Christian practices, is renewed, sanctified and transformed by the power of love

The important thing is that in our prayer the humble and loving thank you has the preeminence. As did Mary who with her Magnificat said «thank you», proclaiming the Gospel of Joy: the good news of the falling in love of God who becomes flesh for us.

The important thing is that everyone responds with humility and according to his or her ability. If we look at the scene of the Visitation we see that Zechariah responds with the difficulty of believing that he is to become a father, Elizabeth with blessing, Mary with praise and  John «dancing». In many ways each of them recognizes and carries the Lord in the world. Let’s live this Advent so that it is delivered to each of us the word: Blessed are you because you carry the Lord like Mary. Then we will better understand what Saint Ambrose said: «If, according to flesh, only one is the mother of Christ, according to faith all souls bring Christ:  every soul welcomes in himself or herself the Word of God» (Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, 2 26-27).

The important thing is to virginally cherish and nourish the memory of God, caring for it in ourselves a
nd trying to awaken it in others. «It is nice to do this: do the memory of God, like the Virgin Mary who, in front of the wonderful action of God in her life, does not think of the honor, the prestige and the riches and does not turn in on herself. On the contrary, after welcoming the Angel’s announcement and have conceived the Son of God, what does she do? She leaves, goes to the old cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant, to help her and in the meeting with her the first act is the memory of God’s doing, the faithfulness of God in her life, in the history of his people, in our history: «My soul magnifies the Lord … for he has looked to the lowliness of her servant … from generation to generation his mercy «(Lk 1, 46.48.50). Maria has memory of God «(Pope Francis, September 29, 2015).


Patristic Reading

Golden Chain 9139

On Luke 1, 39 – 45

AMBROSE; The Angel, when he announced the hidden mysteries to the Virgin, that he might build up her faith by an example, related to her the conception of a barren woman. When Mary heard it, it was not that she disbelieved the oracle, or was uncertain about the messenger, or doubtful of the example, but rejoicing in the fulfillment of her wish, and conscientious in the observance of her duty, she gladly went forth into the hill country. For what could Mary now, filled with God, but ascend into the higher parts with haste!

ORIGEN; For Jesus who was in her womb hastened to sanctify John, still in the womb of his mother. Whence it follows, with haste.

AMBROSE; The grace of the Holy Spirit knows not of slow workings. Learn, you virgins, not to loiter in the streets, nor mix in public talk.

THEOPHYL. She went into the mountains, because Zacharias dwelt there. As it follows, To a city of Juda, and entered into the house of Zacharias. Learn, O holy women, the attention which you ought to show for your kinswomen with child. For Mary, who before dwelt alone in the secret of her chamber, neither virgin modesty caused to shrink from the public gaze, nor the rugged mountains from pursuing her purpose, nor the tediousness of the journey from performing her duty. Learn also, O virgins, the lowliness of Mary.

She came a kinswoman to her next of kin, the younger to the elder, nor did she merely come to her, but was the first to give her salutations; as it follows, And she saluted, Elisabeth. For the more chaste a virgin is, the more humble she should be, and ready to give way to her elders. Let her then be the mistress of humility, in whom is the profession of chastity. Mary is also a cause of piety, in that the higher went to the lower, that the lower might be assisted, Mary to Elisabeth, Christ to John.

CHRYS. Or else the Virgin kept to herself all those things which have been said, not revealing them to any one, for she did not believe that any credit would be given to her wonderful story; nay, she rather thought she would suffer reproach if she told it, as if wishing to screen her own guilt.

GREEK EX. But to Elisabeth alone she has recourse, as she was wont to do from their relationship, and other close bonds of union.

AMBROSE; But soon the blessed fruits of Mary’s coming and our Lord’s presence are made evident. For it follows, And it came to pass, that when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb. Mark the distinction and propriety of each word. Elisabeth first heard the word, but John first experienced the grace. She heard by the order of nature, he leaped by reason of the mystery. She perceived the coming of Mary, he the coming of the Lord.

GREEK EX. For the Prophet sees and hears more acutely than his mother, and salutes the chief of Prophets; but as he could not do this in words, he leaps in the womb, which was the greatest token of his joy. Who ever heard of leaping at a time previous to birth? Grace introduced things to which nature was a stranger. Shut up in the womb, the soldier acknowledged his Lord and King soon to be born, the womb’s covering being no obstacle to the mystical sight.

ORIGEN; He was not filled with the Spirit, until she stood near him who bore Christ in her womb. Then indeed he was both filled with the Spirit, and leaping imparted the grace to his mother; as it follows, And Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. But we cannot doubt that she who w as then filled with the Holy Spirit, was filled because of her son.

AMBROSE; She who had hid herself because she conceived a son, began to glory that she carried in her womb a prophet, and she who had before blushed, now gives her blessing; as it follows, And she spoke out with a loud voice, Blessed are you among women. With a loud voice she exclaimed when she perceived the Lord’s coming, for she believed it to be a holy birth. But she says, Blessed are you among women. For none was ever partaker of such grace or could be, since of the one Divine seed, there is one only parent.

THEOPHYL; Mary is blessed by Elisabeth with the same words as before by Gabriel, to show that she was to be reverenced both by men and angels.

THEOPHYL. But because there have been other holy women who yet have borne sons stained with sin, she adds, And blessed is the fruit of your womb. Or another interpretation is, having said, Blessed are you among women, she then, as if some one inquired the cause, answers, And blessed is the fruit of your womb: as it is said, Blessed be he that comes in the name of the Lord. The Lord God, and he has shown us light; for the Holy Scriptures often use and, instead of because.

TIT. BOS. Now she rightly calls the Lord the fruit of the virgin’s womb, because He proceeded not from man, but from Mary alone. For they who are sown by their fathers are the fruits of their fathers.

GREEK EX. This fruit alone then is blessed, because it is; produced without man, and without sin.

THEOPHYL; This is the fruit which is promised to David, Of the fruit of your body will I set upon your throne. From this place we derive the refutation of Eutyches, in that Christ is stated to be the fruit of the womb. For all fruit is of the same nature with the tree that bears it. It remains then that the virgin was also of the same nature with the second Adam, who takes away the sins of the world. But let those also who invent curious fictions concerning the flesh of Christ, blush when they hear of the real child-bearing of the mother of God. For the fruit itself proceeds from the very substance of the tree. Where too are those who say that Christ passed through the virgin as water through an aqueduct? Let these consider the words of Elisabeth who was filled with the Spirit, that Christ was the fruit of the womb. It follows, And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

AMBROSE; She says it not ignorantly, for she knew it was by the grace and operation of the Holy Spirit that the mother of the prophet should be saluted by the mother of his Lord, to the advancement and growth of her own pledge; but being aware that this was of no human deserving, but a gift of Divine grace, she therefore says, Whence is this to me, that is, By what right of mine, by what that I have done, for what good deeds?

ORIGEN; Now in saying this, she coincides with her son. For John also felt that he was unworthy of our Lord’s coming to him. But she gives the name of «the mother of our Lord» to one still a virgin, thus forestalling the event by the words of prophecy. Divine foreknowledge brought Mary to Elisabeth, that the testimony of John might reach the Lord. For from that time Christ ordained John to be a prophet. Hence it follows, For, lo, as soon as the voice of your salutation sounded, &c.

AUG. But in order to say this, as the Evangelist has premised, she was filled with the Holy Spirit, by who
se revelation undoubtedly she knew what that leaping of the child meant; namely, that the mother of Him had come to her, whose forerunner and herald that child was to be. Such then might be the meaning of so great an event; to be known indeed by grown up persons, but not understood by a little child; for she said not, «The babe leaped in faith in my womb,» but leaped for joy. Now we see not only children leaping for joy, but even the cattle; not surely from any faith or religious feeling, or any rational knowledge. But this joy was strange and unwonted, for it was in the womb; and at the coming of her who was to bring forth the Savior of the world. This joy, therefore, and as it were reciprocal salutation to the mother of the Lord, was caused (as miracles are) by Divine influences in the child, not in any human way by him. For even supposing the exercise of reason and the will had been so far advanced in that child, as that he should be able in the bowels of his mother to know, believe, and assent; yet surely that must be placed among the miracles of Divine power, not referred to human examples.

THEOPHYL. The mother of our Lord had come to see Elisabeth, as also the miraculous conception, from which the Angel had told her should result the belief of a far greater conception, to happen to herself; and to this belief the words of Elisabeth refer, And blessed are you who have believed, for there shall be a performance of those things which were told you from the Lord.

AMBROSE; You see that Mary doubted not but believed, and therefore the fruit of faith followed.

THEOPHYL; Nor is it to be wondered at, that our Lord, about to redeem the world, commenced His mighty works with His mother, that she, through whom the salvation of all men was prepared, should herself be the first to reap the fruit of salvation from her pledge.

AMBROSE; But happy are you also who have heard and believed, for whatever soul has believed, both conceives and brings forth the word of God, and knows His works.

THEOPHYL; But every soul which has conceived the word of God in the heart, straightway climbs the lofty summits of the virtues by the stairs of love, so as to be able to enter into the city of Juda, (into the citadel of prayer and praise, and abide as it were for three months in it,) to the perfection of faith, hope, and charity.

GREG. She was touched with the spirit of prophecy at once, both as to the past, present, and future. She knew that Mary had believed the promises of the Angel; she perceived when she gave her the name of mother, that Mary was carrying in her womb the Redeemer of mankind; and when she foretold that all things would be accomplished, she saw also what was as to follow in the future.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation