Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

On this Major Feast we commemorate The Visitation of Elizabeth, the mother of St. John to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is where the phrase "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" is placed in Luke's gospel. Luke also has Mary utter the Magnificat immediately in response, that great evening hymn to God and God's mercy to the downtrodden and the poor. The Magnificat is really a fine piece of liberation theology. Read it closely sometime (it's today's Gospel reading). There are some great verses regarding the casting down of the proud and the lifting up the lowly. What would that mean in today's Western society that glorifies the rich and ignores the poor except during elections?

I was struck last evening by a meditation on the Visitation by Ambrose of Milan (339 - 397 AD) :
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."

That evokes for me images of the Eucharist, taking Christ into us and then bringing him forth again in our lives. Rejoicing in the Lord is something we don't allow ourselves to do much. We get overwhelmed by the powers and principalities of the present day, by the cares of the world. We forget the absolutely overwhelming joy of the grace we have in salvation. That's why we have so many reminders, both in our Sunday worship and in the appointed daily cycle of prayers too.

This morning the appointed Psalm was 72, one of the "royal psalms" perhaps used at the coronation of kings of Judah or Israel. Today, as I sang it, I felt quite like Elizabeth, or even the archangel Gabriel, announcing what would be in a prophetic and poetic imagery:

That he may rule your people righteously * and the poor with justice;
That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people * and the little hills bring righteousness;
He shall defend the needy among the people * he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor;
He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure * from one generation to another.
May his Name remain for ever and be established as long as the sun endure; * may all the nations bless themselves in him and call him blessed.

I love the echoes (or previews) of Magnificat in this psalm! Here's the first movement of Rutter's Magnificat, which I really love and perfectly captures Mary's joy and wonder - and Elizabeth's and ours too - at what is happening.

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.


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