This feast commemorates Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, narrated by the evangelist Luke (1, 39-56). Of Franciscan origin, it was established during the General Chapter of the Order in 1263 at the request of St. Bonaventure.
«Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”». from the gospel according to St. Luke (1,39 ss)
In the period of the Great Schism, Urban VI and Boniface IX they introduced it (1389) in the Roman Calendar, with the hope that this act of entrustment to Mary would put an end to the division. The Council of Basel ordered its celebration, but only with St. Pius V did it reach the degree of universal celebration, on 2 July. In 1969 the feast was anticipated to May 31 to highlight the biblical temporal partition between the feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and the birth of St. John the Baptist (June 24).
Considering the historical event of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, it is necessary to recall the Annunciation, from which everything originated. It was revealed to Maria that she was to be the Savior’s mother and she immediately went to share the good news with her cousin Elizabeth, who had conceived a son six months earlier despite her old age.
It was a charity visit, made at the cost of a long journey from Nazareth to Judea. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, the baby “leapt in her womb”. She called Mary “blessed among all women” and blessed for believing the angel’s announcement. Mary replied with the Magnificat, the perfect song of praise and thanksgiving for the mystery of the Incarnation – a set of biblical quotes, especially inspired by the psalms, a highly personal prayer but at the same time suitable for everyone and therefore recited during Vespers every day; it can be said that every day of the year (and not only on May 31) the Church commemorates the Visitation.
The reading reported in the Breviary for this feast is taken from a homily by St. Bede:
«Not only blessed among women, but even more blessed among all blessed women. Nor is the fruit of her womb blessed in the manner of the saints, but as the Apostle says, From whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is above all things, God blessed forever [Rom 9: 5]». Moreover, “Our earth gave its fruit when the virgin herself, whose body was from our earth, gave birth to the Son co-equal to the Father in his divinity, but also consubstantial to his mother in the truth of his humanity”.
Long before this feast was formally established (13th century), numerous artists had represented the Visitation through the figurative arts; these images are particularly frequent in valuable Psalters and in other 12th century liturgical books.
VIDEO PILGRIMAGE: AIN-KAREM – Church of the Visitation, Palestine (Holy Land)
The Great Book of Saints by Alban Butler