Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation

Anthony Zimmerman
January 1, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

A smile should come to our lips when we pray the Second Joyful Mystery, a smile because the Lord is good. Mary's joyful Magnificat helps us to think about the good things of life and to thank the Lord for it all. For once we can just put our troubles out of mind and celebrate life, light-footed and happy, as we skip in imagination with Mary through the hill country from Nazareth to Judea. The flowers would be in bloom on the roadside and the birds would be serenading her swift steps if it was on the traditional March 25th that she set out on her journey.

The Angel Gabriel had informed Mary at the Annunciation that her kinswoman Elizabeth had become a mother, information that Mary interpreted as an invitation to pay her a visit. Elizabeth would need help with her first baby, and Mary would need someone to talk to about what the angel has spoken to her. So hardly had the angel exited the room, when "Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah" to visit her relative and stay with her for some time. Maybe she informed Joseph, maybe not, the Bible does not say.

This would not be the first time Mary walked the section of the road that leads to Jerusalem, some 75 miles. From it she would branch off into other hills, which may have been the village of Ain Karim, a beautiful spot nestled in the highlands. That she "went in haste" indicates that she was full of joy. Perhaps she prayed on the way especially the Psalms of the Ascents,120-134. Typically these psalms invoke God's help as the pilgrims draw closer to the Temple: "I rejoiced because they said to me, 'We will go up to the house of the Lord'" (Ps. 122). Perhaps she prayed very directly and simply: "I am happy with my Father" as primitive peoples pray in Tierra del Fuego, having learned how to pray from our first parents, Adam and Eve.

Luke relates the dramatic events that transpired when Mary caught sight of her cousin: "And she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe 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 me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."

Little John, six months along in the womb of Elizabeth, had keen ears already attuned to the voice of his father and mother, but when that lilting and pleasant new voice entered his ears, he couldn't resist jumping for joy. At the same time Elizabeth felt a wave of exultation surge through her as the Holy Spirit indicated to her who it was that had come to visit - the Mother of God! She gazed upon her young cousin now with faith and wonder. No doubt, the greeting made Mary glad. And we make her glad likewise as often as we repeat this precious greeting when reciting the Hail Mary.

How did Elizabeth know that her cousin was now "the mother of my Lord"? Mary had not telephoned in advance of her arrival, of course, and Elizabeth could not have known from any human source. The Holy Spirit had broken the news to her. How glad Mary must have been to hear this greeting, because it was a confirmation of what she had been told by Gabriel, that she will become the Mother of God. With new reverence she was filled with wonder that God was so near to her, indeed, within her bodily sanctuary. She pondered anew in adoration.

Saint Ambrose, a man of arts and letters, tells us that even John shared in the faith of the mystery. "Elizabeth is the first to hear Mary's voice but John is the first to be aware of grace. She hears with the ears of the body, but he leaps for joy at the meaning of the mystery. She is aware of Mary's presence, but he is aware of the Lord's: a woman aware of a woman's presence, the forerunner aware of the pledge of our salvation" (Reading of today, December 21st).

Ambrose takes up the words of Elizabeth to Mary: "Blessed are you because you have believed" and tells us that we, too, are blessed when we believe: "You also are blessed because you have heard and believed. A soul that believes both conceives and brings forth the Word of God and acknowledges his works." That goes for all of us also, who read this column. God grows in us as we acknowledge His works.

To believe in God and His word Mary had to part from her own will, her plans, her management of her life. By believing, she put herself into the protecting and trustworthy hands of God. And by believing she has become the mother to all who do not see but believe. She rejoices in this new relationship with God and sings the canticle of the Magnificat in recognition of His sheer goodness.

Shall we sing the Magnificat as though we are the voice of Mary praising God, without ourselves making the words our own? Or shall we make the words entirely our own, without reference to Mary? Better, I believe, is to hold hands with Mary and with the entire Mystical Body of Christ as we raise our voices together to praise the Lord when praying the Magnificat at Vespers. We participate in God's goodness when we praise Him for the goodness that is His by nature. We pray, holding hands with Mary and with Christ's Mystical Body:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
rny spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

Mary leads us in practicing Christian joy. Taking a cue from her on Laetare Sunday the Church encourages us to "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near." What Paul adds is equally instructive: "Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4: 5-6). Paul was a man of much experience in the art of praying. His advice: "Let your requests be made known to God" is a mature manner of praying.

Do we do anyone any good by just being joyful in the Lord? Indeed so, for our joy is not only contagious to those around us, it also brings down God's blessings upon this world. God promised Abraham that He will spare Sodom and Gomorrah if He finds just ten people there who are good. This is a promise that He will bless this world if you and I are good people.

The priests, sisters, lay people who pray this Magnificat with Mary probably do more for the benefit of our global population than environmentalists do, than kings and presidents do for their nations, than armies and navies do to protect the nation. For when God perceives our joy in His works, He remembers again that "all things that He made are very good" and He is restful in heaven. We give Him new reason to hold this cosmos in being for yet another generation. In the real world, which is the world that God holds in His hands, the singing of the Magnificat and of the Alleluia benefits mankind more than the launching of a battery of defensive ballistic missiles.

Mary continues, and we resume our prayer with her:

He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant
Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Saint Ambrose encourages us: "Let Mary's soul be in each of you to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let her spirit be in each to rejoice in the Lord... If the soul does what is right and holy, it magnifies that image of God, in whose likeness it was created." The second joyful mystery is super-time to smile to the Lord.