Have you ever encountered a pregnant woman during the season of advent? At first you may notice her big belly, waddling walk and, perhaps, queasy expression. Those who pause to take a second look with eyes of faith will see something much more: They will see a living tabernacle which mirrors and holds the creative love of our Triune God. Pregnant women are a wellspring from which we can ponder Our Lady, the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Trinity, and our own gift of self. During this advent season, men, and women of all stages in life can benefit from pausing to reflect on the beauty of a pregnant woman.

Our Lady

Advent is a time of waiting and unknowing; a perfect image for pregnancy. Despite all the advances of modern technology and medicine, there is still a mystery enclosed inside each mother’s womb. Each woman in a unique way resembles Our Lady. This semblance is especially pronounced during pregnancy and provides an opportunity for a woman’s path to cross with Mary’s in the sharing of their lives. Jennifer Cook, a parishioner at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Mesa, Ariz., is expecting her seventh child (five are currently on earth and two in eternity). This advent, she found herself reflecting on the mystery of Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus:

“I intimately identify with her experiences; her joys and even her worries and fears,” Cook said.

“I find myself walking the same road that Our Blessed Mother did and [realizing] that she felt Our Lord’s every little kick and hiccup. Did he keep her up at night kicking and wiggling? What cravings did she find herself experiencing? Did she and Joseph rejoice when they could feel baby Jesus from the outside much in the way my husband and I do with our own babies?”

Rachel Frankart, coordinator of youth ministry at St. Timothy Catholic Church is in the middle of her first pregnancy. She shared in Cook’s sentiments:

“It has been a comfort to know that Mary gets it, she went through it… Going through my first pregnancy I have had no idea what to expect… I can turn to Our Lady and be like, ‘You did this too, you also had to ask what was normal and what wasn’t.’”

The Holy Eucharist and the Holy Trinity

A mother’s gift of her body for her child reminds us of Jesus’ words at the last supper: “This is my body given up for you.” During this time of National Eucharistic Revival, (taking place in the United States from 2022-2025), we have the opportunity to consider the role of the Eucharist in the lives of the unborn and to contemplate Our Lady as the first person to carry Jesus inside of her. A woman who receives Holy Communion during her pregnancy is a mirror of Our Lady; not only does she receive Jesus into her own body, she also receives him into her unborn child’s body!

“This Advent, as I reflect on my pregnancy, I am overcome with awe at the realization that our babies in the womb get to consume the Holy Eucharist for the first time. Every time an expectant mother receives Holy Communion, her baby also gets their own special encounter with Jesus,” reflected Cook.

For children whose mothers are practicing Catholics, their First Communion happens much earlier than the third grade. It can happen within a day after they are conceived! The gift and reception of one another that occurs between three persons, mother, child, and Jesus, together in one body, form a reflection of the mystery of God: The Holy Trinity.

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun from Dijon, France, recognized this amazing reality. She saw that the Holy Trinity has made pregnant mothers and their children as an image of God’s creative love. In a letter to her younger sister, Guite, concerning Guite’s newborn daughter, St. Elizabeth wrote:

“I feel completely filled with reverence before this little temple of the Holy Trinity… if I were near her, I would kneel down to adore Him who dwells within her…”

When we enter a Catholic Church, we bow down or genuflect before the tabernacle, the house of God, which contains the real presence of Jesus. A mother who receives Holy Communion becomes a chalice for both Jesus and her child. She, like Mary, becomes a living tabernacle, holding the presence of God.

The exclamation of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity at the mystery of mother and child corresponds harmoniously to her namesake’s salutation, Elizabeth the cousin of Mary, in the Gospel of Luke.  When she saw her cousin, the Blessed Mother, coming to greet her, Elizabeth cried out:

“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…. For the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

Both Elizabeths were moved to adore the presence of Jesus, the Lord, as we do when we see and consume him during Holy Mass.

This calls us to ponder how much more respected the unborn might be if we could show reverence, like these two St. Elizabeths did, before the mystery of the Trinity dwelling within each pregnant mother. To believe in the reality of what is unseen and hidden and to receive it with the same respect and honor as what is seen and visible is the fruit of faith: a virtue which our world is in such desperate need of.

Gift of self

Just as Mary must have delighted to share with her cousin the joys and trials of bearing a child, so too she delights in being a companion to all of us. As she must have assisted in Elizabeth’s daily tasks, helping, and encouraging her, so too Mary continues to accompany pregnant mothers from her throne in Heaven. Neither time nor distance are barriers to the gift of self she continuously pours forth from the child in her womb.

The joy and excitement that Mary shared with Elizabeth continues today in the elation of each pregnant mother; the recollection and wonder they experienced in pondering the children enclosed in their wombs carries on in the prayer of all mothers-to-be.

While herself passing through the first trimester of pregnancy, Mary accompanied Elizabeth through her third trimester and, we can suppose, up until John the Baptist’s birth. This thought was a comfort to Genae Danaher, a mother of four and parishioner at St. Timothy Catholic Church.

“I was blessed to have two of my children born during Advent,” Danaher said.

“During these pregnancies I especially felt like I was walking with Mary. When struggling during my first trimester, I reflected on how Mary selflessly went to visit Elizabeth…There were times of difficulty and uncertainty during the end of one of these pregnancies. I reflected on Mary’s travels at the end of her pregnancy and asked for her intercession.”

Any woman who has been pregnant knows that pregnancy is not a comfortable time to travel. Mary’s example of self-forgetfulness as she went “in haste” to accompany Elizabeth shows the natural movement that flows from saying “yes” to the Lord. Her continued travels home to return to Joseph and, later, on her journey to Bethlehem, exemplify the fortitude and perseverance necessary during pregnancy. These examples of Mary placing others before herself can inspire mothers-to-be and prevent them from getting lost in their first trimester maladies. Such has been the case with Rachel Frankart. Like our Blessed Mother, she has felt herself being drawn out of herself to focus on the needs of another:

“The way I receive the Eucharist has very much changed. It has always been [that] I receive the Eucharist to receive spiritual nourishment… I tell the Lord: ‘Lord, this is where I need you to fill me in life.’ Recently it has been: ‘Lord, nourish my child, fill my child, form my child.’ That has been so beautiful because it has reframed how I take the Eucharist, not just for me and my benefit but for someone else’s.”

This Advent, may we ponder the mystery of pregnant mothers with Our Lady as she teaches us how to wait in a state of receptive wonder to the mystery God is weaving in their wombs. May we receive the Eucharist with greater attentiveness so that, just as Mary’s bodily “yes” gave life to Jesus, so too may our faith allow his life to come forth from inside of us.