Occasion: Fourth Sunday of Advent
Reading: Luke 1·39-45
Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”
Standout words or phrases
traveled in haste, blessed, leaped for joy
While praying the Rosary some years ago, I arrived at the second Joyful Mystery — the one described here in the Gospel — and somehow got it into my head that perhaps Mary traveled to Elizabeth’s home in order to escape the curious eyes and gossiping lips of her neighbors — perhaps even to escape her parents’ own knowledge. From Matthew’s Gospel we have certain knowledge that not everyone was inclined to believe that her pregnancy was brought about by God; Joseph himself sought to divorce her quietly. The situation for Mary was certainly dire; she could have been stoned. So, thought I, perhaps this was something akin to the situation in contemporary times where a prominent family discovers a pregnant teenage daughter, and has her travel to another location to bring the child into the light.
These days I have been imagining that that was simply a hyperactive imagination, but perhaps not. Consider Elizabeth’s greeting:
Blessed are you among women … blessed is the fruit of your womb … Blessed are you who believed…
This is no mere greeting, for the evangelist tells us that the Holy Spirit himself fills Elizabeth. The words she cries out are divinely inspired, and echo through the millennia in the prayers of the faithful!
Thrice-blessed is Mary, and we repeat the first two blessings word for word in the Hail Mary. In poetic fashion, the second blessing reflects Mary’s unique role in salvation by bringing forth our Lord, the fruit of her womb. Her mere arrival in Elizabeth’s home brings joy, because she bears our Lord. Even John, the infant in Elizabeth’s womb, leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. (An aside: One wonders if Luke was inclined to make note of this on account of his possible familiarity as a doctor with the close connection between a mother’s senses and emotions and her unborn child’s.)
Notice also when this leap occurs: at the moment Mary’s greeting reaches Elizabeth’s ears. Reflect on this: When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, he foretold John the Baptist, but not Jesus. Some months later, he reminded Mary of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, which by now would have been well-known. It seems likely that Mary was already aware of this miraculous pregnancy, and Gabriel was reminding her; while it is also possible that she was unaware, the fact that it was Elizabeth’s sixth month makes this rather unlikely.
But how does Elizabeth know of Mary’s pregnancy? I imagine two possibilities. One is that the news has spread; as Elizabeth is Mary’s relative, this is not unlikely. Luke writes that Mary traveled “during those days” that followed the angel’s announcement, so there was not much time at all for news to spread. Joseph himself probably did not know yet. Mary’s parents may well have arranged a quick departure, as I wondered way back when. Another, of course, is that, when the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth, she was enlightened. This would not seem entirely unreasonable; after all, she was a holy woman herself.
In the end, it is not for us to know. What does matter are the blessings that come to us from God, through Mary, the New Eve, on account of the cooperation she gave him, which we ourselves owe him every day, through whatever angel he announces his plan for us. We, too, might thus be thrice-blessed: blessed among humanity, blessed for the fruit of God’s grace in us, and blessed for our belief.