Today is a very unique festival that is also one that Anglicans (and many other Christians) pushed off to the side for a very long time. Today is the Feast of the Visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth, better known as the Visitation. It is, oddly, a way to celebrate Advent while we are still in Easter.
The story of the Visitation comes from the Gospel according to St. Luke. In it the Blessed Virgin Mary, who has just received the news that she is pregnant with Jesus, visits her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth is herself with child: the unborn St. John the Baptist. Something amazing happens when Mary comes into the home of Elizabeth: the unborn John leaps in her womb. He reacts to the very presence of both Mary and the yet embryonic Jesus. That to me is telling of the power of Christ.
Christ, the Word made flesh, is Lord even in the Womb. Mary didn’t yet understand the magnitude of what she was carrying in her. The unborn John and Elizabeth recognized this through the power of the Holy Spirit. After Elizabeth gives her “Blessed are you among women…” speech then Mary finally gets it. She then says the canticle we attribute to her: the Magnificat or the Song of Mary. If you are an Anglican doing Evening Prayer you will say this every evening.
I truly think that the Visitation is massively under-appreciated. Also, while I do admit to have a conservative bias on liturgical matters there is one thing I am liberal about with this feast: the (new) date. Until the 1960s this feast was celebrated on the 2 July. While that doesn’t seem like an issue that puts it after the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on 24 June (which happens to be the date of my Daughter’s baptism). It seems a bit odd to celebrate a feast where Elizabeth is pregnant after the birth of the child she was carrying. The new date of 31 May is therefore a much better fit.
31 May also happens to be another special date for me: It is my wife’s Birthday.
Almighty God, who looked with favour on your servant Mary, and called her to be the mother of your Son, nurture in us the humility and gentleness that found favour in your sight, that with her we may proclaim the greatness of your name and find the mercy you show to those who fear you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Collect for the The Visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth
Page 408, Book of Alternative Services (1985)