II. THE VISITATION
The Mother of God, having heard from the Angel that her cousin St. Elisabeth was in her old age about to bear a child, left Nazareth and went on what, for a young maiden, must have been a difficult journey of at least five days' duration, passing through part of Galilee and the hostile Samaria until she reached the mountains of Judaea where Zachary dwelt with his wife.
"And Mary, rising up in those days, went into the hill-country with haste into a city of Juda, and she entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elisabeth.
"And it came to pass that when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb." (Luke i. 39, 41.)
On these words Origen comments as follows:
"Superiors go to those less highly placed that by their presence they may confer upon them some advantage. Thus both the Saviour went to John that He might sanctify his Baptism, and Mary, immediately when she heard the Angel announcing that she had conceived the Saviour, and that her kinswoman Elisabeth was with child, rising with haste went into the hill-country and entered the house of Elisabeth. But Jesus, whom she bore within her, hastened to sanctify John who lay as yet in his mother's womb. The infant did not exult in the womb before Mary came and saluted Elisabeth, but the moment when Mary spoke the word, which the Son of God, in His Mother's womb, had suggested to her, the infant exulted with joy, and then it was that Jesus first made His Forerunner a Prophet" (Homil, VII. in Lucam, 2)
Surely a most wonderful mystery ! The Divine Babe and His Mother visit Zachary and Elisabeth. Their unborn child leaps exultingly when Mary speaks, for Mary's voice is the voice of the Mother of God. Thus exulting, the Baptist becomes a Prophet, declaring and foretelling the joy that was to be given to the world through the coming of the Saviour. At that moment, according to the teaching of all Antiquity, he was himself sanctified before his birth by that Saviour Himself within the Virgin's Womb.
" Then was accomplished what the Angel had foretold: ' He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb.' " (Luke i. 15.)
"And Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb. And whence is this unto me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me ? For behold so soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the infant in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord." (Luke i. 41-45.)
Surely our Lady's joy was great when she heard these joyful things. Great was her joy when she listened to her cousin filled with the Holy Ghost, crying out with a loud voice, that should be heard throughout all ages, proclaiming her twofold blessedness, her blessedness in believing, and her blessedness in her Motherhood—declaring also the blessedness of the Fruit of her womb, Jesus. Jesus, as Mary knew full well, was blessed in Himself—God Blessed for ever—she was blessed only through His grace and in virtue of her relation to Him. Yet her blessedness was such that all generations should, together with Elisabeth, call her the Blessed One—blessed beyond compare, not only blessed amongst women, but blessed above all women, blessed with a super-eminent blessing above all creatures whether in Heaven or on the earth. Great, then, was Mary's wondrous joy when she heard the words of Elisabeth : " Whence is this unto me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me ?"—for in these words her Child was declared the Lord of whom the Psalmist had said : " The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit down upon my right Hand"—David's Lord, and Elisabeth's, and her own—and yet He was her Son. Great was her joy as she heard that the unborn Baptist had leapt exultingly when she spoke, for this miracle proved that already the Saviour, who was the Fruit of her womb, was bestowing the largesse of His grace upon the children of men. Great indeed was Mary's joy at this high mystery of her Visitation to the house of Elisabeth —so great that one would have said it was beyond the power of words to express, had not our Lady her self spoken and declared her joy: " And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because He hath regarded the humility of His Handmaiden, for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me Blessed. Because He that is mighty hath done great things to me ; and Holy is His Name."