Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Tomorrow the church celebrates the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After the Annunciation and Incarnation Mary journeys to the house of Zechariah to be greeted by Elizabeth, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk. 1:41-45).

As Mary meets Elizabeth with the presence of God in her womb, the child John the Baptist “leaps” in the womb. The church likewise encounters movement coming from the voice of her beloved, “Behold he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills” (Song of Songs 2:8). There is always a physical movement in Christ’s coming - His presence and speaking, and the rising – the leaping of the saints - the resurrection of the dead, “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11:5).

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” She (Mary) as archetype of the church reveals the very essence of the Christian life in this confession – that we may be blessed whom believe in the promise spoken from the Lord – the promise of salvation and Christ’s victory over all evil (Gen. 3:15). This blessedness, this bestowal of all gifts demands nothing in and of myself – only that I may believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ, whom grants me the very faith to believe – granting and implanting words to speak, “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”

On the eve of the feast of the Visitation, we ought to consider the place and significance of the Magnificat within the Visitation text (Lk. 1:39-56). After Elizabeth worships the Christ Child, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord,” Mary sings a song of praise.

Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν Κύριον
καὶ ἠγαλλίασεν τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐπὶ τῷ Θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου,
ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης αυτοῦ.
ἰδού γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί,
ὅτι ἐποίησέν μοι μεγάλα ὁ δυνατός,
καὶ ἅγιον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ,
καὶ τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεὰς
τοῖς φοβουμένοῖς αυτόν.
Ἐποίησεν κράτος ἐν βραχίονι αὐτοῦ,
διεσκόρπισεν ὑπερηφάνους διανοίᾳ καρδίας αὐτῶν·
καθεῖλεν δυνάστας ἀπὸ θρόνων
καὶ ὕψωσεν ταπεινούς,
πεινῶντας ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν
καὶ πλουτοῦντας ἐξαπέστειλεν κενούς.
ἀντελάβετο Ἰσραὴλ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ,
μνησθῆναι ἐλέους,
καθὼς ἐλάλησεν πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν
τῷ Αβραὰμ καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.

The song parallels the song of Moses “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea” (Ex 15:1). Mary and the Church cannot help but sing in the joy that comes to her. God brings mercy, exalts those who are humble, and feeds the hungry. The Magnificat is sung at the office of Vespers (though I am told in the East it is at morning Matins).

J.S. Bach wrote at least two sacred cantatas for the Visitation that I am aware of, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (BWV 147), and Meine Seel erhebt den Herren (BWV 10).

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