(CNA) — Assuming that the Annunciation and the Incarnation took place around the time of the vernal equinox, Mary left Nazareth at the end of March and went over the mountains to Hebron, south of Jerusalem, to wait upon her cousin Elizabeth. Mary’s presence — and even more the presence of the Divine Child in her womb — was to be the source of very great graces to the Blessed John, Christ’s Forerunner (Lk 1:39-57).
Feeling the presence of his Divine Savior, John, upon the arrival of Mary, leaped for joy in the womb of his mother; at that moment he was cleansed from original sin and filled with the grace of God. Our Lady now, for the first time, exercised the office which belonged to the Mother of God made man: that He might, by her mediation, sanctify and glorify us.
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 (Mt 1:19-25), may have taken place to end the tormenting doubts of Joseph regarding Mary’s maternity.
It was during the Visitation that Mary recited her famous “Magnificat” prayer, which is recited at Evening Prayer by clergy, religious and laity daily throughout the world.
‘Magnificat’ or Canticle of Mary
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my 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.
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.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now,
and will be for ever. Amen.
The earliest evidence of the existence of the feast is its adoption by the Franciscan Chapter in 1263. With the Franciscan Breviary this feast spread to many churches but was celebrated at various dates-at Prague and Ratisbon, April 28, in Paris June 27, and at Reims and Geneva, on July 8. It was extended to the entire Church by Pope Urban VI on April 6, 1389 (decree published by Pope Boniface IX, Nov. 9, 1389), with the hope that Christ and His Mother would visit the Church and put an end to the Great Western Schism which rent the seamless garment of Christ.
The feast, with a vigil and an octave, was assigned to July 2, the day after the octave of St. John, about the time when Mary returned to Nazareth. The office was drawn up by an Englishman, Cardinal Adam Easton, a Benedictine monk and bishop of Lincoln.
Since many bishops of the opposing obedience would not adopt the new feast during the Schism, it was confirmed by the Council of Basel in 1441. Pope Pius V abolished the rhythmical office, the vigil and the octave. The present office was compiled by order of Pope Clement VIII by a Franciscan named Ruiz. On May 13, 1850 Pope Pius IX raised the feast to the rank of a double of the second class.
Many religious orders — the Carmelites, Dominicans, Cistercians, Mercedarians, Servites, and others — as well as Siena, Pisa, Loreto, Vercelli, Cologne and other dioceses have retained the octave. In Bohemia the feast is kept on the first Sunday of July as a double of the first class with an octave.
Mary “alone was chosen, and she burned with spiritual love for the son she so joyously conceived. Above all other saints, she alone could truly rejoice in Jesus, her savior, for she knew that He who was the source of eternal salvation would be born in time in her body, in one person both her own son and her Lord,” reflected St. Bede the Venerable a Benedictine monk in a homily that is used for the Office of Readings for the day.
“Mary attributes nothing to her own merits. She refers all her greatness to the gift of the One whose essence is power and whose nature is greatness, for He fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in Him,” he continues.