The Visitation is the visit of Mary with Elizabeth as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, Luke 1:39–56. It is also the name of a Christian feast day commemorating this visit, celebrated on 31 May in the West (2 July in calendars of the 1263–1969 period and in the modern regional calendar of Germany) and 30 March in the East.
Mary visits her relative Elizabeth; they are both pregnant. Mary is pregnant with Jesus and Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary left Nazareth immediately after the Annunciation and went "into the hill country...into a city of Judah" (Luke 1:39) to attend her cousin Elizabeth. There are several possibilities as to exactly which city this was, including Hebron, south of Jerusalem, and Ein Karem. The journey was about 100 miles and Elizabeth was in the sixth month before Mary came (Luke 1:36), Mary stayed three months. Most scholars hold she stayed for the birth of John. Catholics believe that the purpose of this visit was to bring divine grace to both Elizabeth and her unborn child. Even though he was still in his mother's womb, John became aware of the presence of his Divine Saviour; he leapt for joy as he was cleansed from original sin and filled with divine grace. Elizabeth also responded and recognised the presence of Jesus. Thus Mary, now for the first time, exercised her function as mediatrix between God and man.1 "And she [Elizabeth] spoke out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed [art] thou among women, and blessed [is] the fruit of thy womb. And whence [is] this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed [is] she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord (Luke 1:42–45)." It is also at this point, in response to Elizabeth's remark, that Mary proclaims the Magnificat (My soul doth magnify the Lord), Luke 1:46–55, for which reason this canticle had traditionally been reserved for this feast day.
St. Joseph probably accompanied Mary, returned to Nazareth, and when, after three months, he came again to Hebron to take his wife home, the apparition of the angel, mentioned in Matthew 1:19-25, may have taken place to end the tormenting doubts of Joseph regarding Mary's maternity.1
The theme of the Feast of the Visitation centers on Mary responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to set out on a mission of charity.2
This feast is of medieval origin. It was kept by the Franciscan Order before 1263 when Saint Bonaventure recommended it and the Franciscan chapter adopted it. The Franciscan Breviary spread it to many churches. In 1389 Pope Urban VI, hoping thereby to obtain an end to the Great Western Schism, inserted it in the Roman Calendar, for celebration on 2 July.3 In the Tridentine Calendar, it was a Double. When that Missal of Pope Pius V was replaced by that of Pope Clement VIII in 1604, the Visitation became a Double of the Second Class. It remained so until Pope John XXIII reclassified it as a Second-Class Feast in 1962.4 It continued to be assigned to 2 July, the day after the end of the octave following the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, who was still in his mother's womb at the time of the Visitation. In 1969, however, Pope Paul VI moved it to 31 May, "between the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord (25 March) and that of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June), so that it would harmonize better with the Gospel story."5
Roman Catholics who use a pre-1969 calendar and Anglicans who use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer celebrate the feast on 2 July (in some Anglican traditions it is merely a commemoration rather than a feast day6 ). So does the entire Catholic (and Lutheran) Church of Germany, using the post-1969 calendar of Pope Paul VI (but with the variations permitted in the German Regional Calendar).
The celebration of a feast day commemorating this event in the Eastern Orthodox Church is of relatively recent origin, dating only to the 19th century. The impetus to establish a feast day in the Liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church, and the composition of a service to be included in the Menaion, were the work of Archimandrite Antonin Kapustin (1817–1894), head of the Russian Orthodox Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem.7 The Gorneye Convent in Jerusalem, which was built on the traditional site of the Meeting of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) and St. Elizabeth, celebrates this Feast on 30 March. (Julian Calendar 30 March corresponds, until 2099, to Gregorian Calendar 12 April.) If 30 March falls between Lazarus Saturday and Pascha (Easter), the Visitation Feast is transferred to Bright Friday. Celebration of the Feast of the Visitation has not yet been accepted by all Orthodox jurisdictions.
- Holweck, Frederick. "Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 11 Oct. 2013
- Samaha S.M., Br. John M. "The Visitatation of the Blessed Virgin Maary
- Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 93
- General Roman Calendar of 1962
- Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 128
- Frary, Lucien J. (2013). "Russian Missions to the Orthodox East: Antonin Kapustin (1817–1894) and his World". Russian History 40 (1): 133–151.
- The Meeting of the Mother of God and Saint Elizabeth – Orthodox icon and synaxarion
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