Each year on May 31st, the Roman Catholic Church commemorates the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast brings to life a pivotal narrative from Luke's Gospel, capturing a divine encounter filled with profound joy and humility.
First observed in the 13th century, the Feast of the Visitation was formally instituted by Pope Urban VI in 1389. The tumultuous period of the Western Schism required a message of unity, faith, and reconciliation, which this feast embodied.
This remarkable feast centers on the Gospel of Luke (1:39-56). The young Mary, having accepted the angel Gabriel's divine proclamation of her impending motherhood, visits her older cousin Elizabeth, herself pregnant under miraculous circumstances. Elizabeth's joyous greeting of Mary, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Luke 1:42), signals the recognition of the extraordinary roles they both play in salvation history.
Mary's response is a song of profound gratitude, humility, and joy: the "Magnificat": "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant" (Luke 1:46-48). This prayer is the centerpiece of the feast, echoed in liturgies worldwide, embodying the feast's essential themes and encapsulating Mary's spiritual journey.
The Magnificat, with its profound words and significance, has inspired countless saints throughout the centuries. St. Augustine, one of the Church's most influential theologians, reflected on the Magnificat by saying, "The world was unworthy to receive the Son of God directly from the hands of the Father. He gave Him to Mary in order that the world might receive Him through her.” Here, he emphasizes Mary's unique position as a humble conduit of divine grace.
The Magnificat is a testament to God's providence and a declaration of the divine preference for the humble and the poor. It invites us to perceive God’s greatness through the lens of humility, an aspect stressed by St. John Paul II during a General Audience in 1995: “The Magnificat, a portrait so faithful of the Virgin, is also a lesson for us. Mary invites us to recognize God’s greatness, for he looks upon those who fear him and who humble themselves. He has done marvels in history."
St. Louis de Montfort, a French priest known for his Marian devotion, also elaborated on the Magnificat's lessons. He stated, "When the Holy Spirit, her spouse, has found Mary in a soul, He flies there. He enters there in His fullness; He communicates Himself to that soul abundantly, and to the full extent to which it makes room for his spouse."
It is through the Magnificat that Mary becomes the embodiment of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. St. Ambrose, one of the early Church Fathers, once stated, "May the soul of Mary be in each one of us to magnify the Lord. May the spirit of Mary be in each one of us to rejoice in God."
St. Teresa of Avila, a renowned mystic and Doctor of the Church, emphasizes the virtue of humility, in the spirit of Mary's Magnificat: "Humility is the ointment for our wounds, the remedy for all our ills."
Thus, as we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of Mary, we are called to reflect on and embody the virtues illuminated in the Magnificat. Through Mary's voice in the Magnificat, we are reminded of the divine joy in our humble service to God and others, magnifying the Lord in our hearts and lives.