In this unique reading there is a meeting between Mary and Elizabeth – and the children they are carrying in their wombs. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
39 Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. 40 She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? 44 For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45 Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
Other readings: Micah 5:1-4 Psalm 79 Hebrews 10:5-10
On the days before the feast of Christmas, and on this final Sunday, the gospel read at Mass is taken from the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel or the first chapter of Luke’s. These two gospel-writers give us accounts of the birth of Jesus, and in Luke’s case the birth of John the Baptist too. Luke describes Mary as the ‘kinswoman’ of Elizabeth (Luke 1:36), and stresses how deeply related the mission of John the Baptist is to the mission of Christ.
Today’s gospel passage is unique because it presents a meeting between the mothers of the two men, each carrying in their wombs the children soon to be born. The story, known as the ‘Visitation’, follows the account of the Annunciation to Mary of the coming birth of the Saviour, which ended with Mary’s ‘Yes’ to God and her words, ‘let what you have said be done to me’. (Luke 1:38)
Commentators on this gospel story have often stressed the kindness of Mary in going to the assistance of Elizabeth in her time of need. The story also has a deeper significance, for it is the first meeting between the Messiah and the one who will prepare the way for him. The first words of Elizabeth to Mary are familiar as part of the ‘Hail, Mary’: ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!’ Luke tells us that the child in the womb of Elizabeth recognised the coming of the Lord, the Messiah. What John will do during his adult life, preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah, is anticipated here in the tender meeting of two pregnant mothers. As Mary welcomed the coming of the Lord into her body, now John, as yet unborn, welcomes his arrival too.
If we continue to read the gospel beyond today’s passage we hear the words of Mary’s hymn of thanksgiving, the Magnificat, prayed daily by the Church at Evening Prayer.
What can we learn from the behaviour and attitude of Mary and Elizabeth?
How will the coming of Christ change me?
Pray for all mothers that they may welcome the children of their womb.
Pray for a deep spirit of thanksgiving for God’s goodness.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy