Our Lady (detail from the Ghent Altarpiece / Adoration of the Mystic Lamb),
Painted by Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441),
Completed by 1432,
Oil on panel
© St. Bavo Cathedral, Ghent
Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, 'Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.'
And Mary said:
'My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lordand my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him. He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away. He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.'
Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.
Reflection on the painting
As we are on the last day of May, the month during which we celebrate Our Lady, and this also being the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I want to share a story which Bishop Fulton Sheen told about Our Lady.
When Bishop Fulton Sheen was visiting a school in his Archdiocese of New York, one of the young children in class asked him what Our Lady could do for us. He pondered for a minute and then said that he had a dream where God complained to Saint Peter why so many people ended up in heaven. He told Peter that too many people were entering and that many were entering without the necessary paperwork or passports to Heaven. As Peter holds the keys to Heaven, it was indeed his responsibility. Peter replied to God the Father: 'It isn't me who is letting all these people in. You should talk to the mother of your Son, Jesus, about this issue'. God answered: 'Why?' St Peter replied: 'I only look after the gate of Heaven and I vet everyone who wants to come in. I turn lots of people away. However, when I refuse entry, they go to the window of heaven and Our Lady lets them in!'
It is a charming story, highlighting how Mary intercedes for us. She is keen to help us! Today’s gospel shows that Mary’s faith not only found expression in love, it also found expression in prayer. Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, has been a wonderful gift to us, prayed by believers down through the centuries. The meeting of Mary and Elizabeth which we celebrate today was equally a meeting between the Son of the Most High (Jesus) and the prophet of the Most High (John the Baptist). Mary and Elizabeth were well aware there was this deeper dimension to their meeting. In fact, any meeting between two people, especially between two Christians, always has a deeper dimension beyond what is clearly visible...
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