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12.19.2021 Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Visitation

Rafael Sanzio


The Visitation is a famous painting and by far among the most recognized artwork by Italian artist Raphael Sanzio.

Raphael learnt his oil painting techniques while living in Rome, where he joined the High Renaissance Movement, present in most of his paintings. He painted many religious scenes taken from the Bible.

The Visitation is inspired by the narrative in the Gospel of Saint Luke. It shows a picture of two women, whose age difference has clearly been shown. Raphael depicts a pregnant young Mary who has paid her cousin Saint Elizabeth a visit. Saint Elizabeth appears to be a little aged to show the miracle in her pregnancy. The two women are sharing greetings in a beautiful landscape with a lush green background. The Angels who guided the Virgin Mary to her cousin Saint Elizabeth are seen in the background.

The Visitation was commissioned by Giovanni Branconio upon the request of his father Marino for their family Chapel at a Church in Aquila.

In 1655, the painting was in the hands of Spanish King Philip IV, who deposited it at El Escorial (Madrid). However, in 1837, it was moved to the Prado Museum.


Luke 1:39-45

39“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord’”.


The Experience of the Holy Spirit

When Zechariah was in the Temple, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and promised Zachariah that his son would be filled with the Holy Spirit.

After the Conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit becomes active in other persons, as well:

· John received the Spirit in the very presence of Jesus; and

· The Spirit filled Elizabeth, and later on Zechariah and also Simeon.

These references to the Spirit in the Infancy Narrative of Luke foreshadow the future glorification of Jesus, which will release the Spirit on all believers[1].


Women, so often overlooked or ignored both in society at large and in many Biblical narratives as well, have the only speaking roles in this passage.

The first words of Mary prompt an immediate, silent response from Elizabeth’s unborn child. John leaps, acknowledging both her presence and the significance of the Child She carries in her womb.

The reaction of John to the greeting of Mary fulfils the prophecy the Angel had spoken to his father, that ‘even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit’[2]. John in Elizabeth’s womb already points to the arrival of the Messiah.


The visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth sanctifies her home with the presence of the Lord.

Though Luke clearly signals that the leaping of the unborn child is prompted by the Spirit, actually it is Elizabeth who takes on the role of prophet: Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims what Mary has not yet told her, and what is not yet visible: ‘Mary is pregnant’!

Through the Spirit, Elizabeth knows who Mary’s Child will be, for she calls Mary “the Mother of my Lord.” Her prophecy will soon be fulfilled when her own son prepares the way for the Lord.

Elizabeth not only prophesies but blesses. By declaring both Mary and the Fruit of her womb “blessed”, Elizabeth begins a series of blessings that weave through the Infancy Narrative of the Gospel of Luke and intensify its tone of joy, delight, and praise:

· Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon will all add their blessings to the chain. They

praise God for what God is doing at this moment in history: Those who are

privileged to be instruments of the saving work of God have been richly blessed.

The Magnificat resembles the Canticle of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel[3]:

· Both Hannah and Elizabeth have been childless for a long period in their

married life;

· Both dedicated their child as a Nazarite: and

· Both bear a child who will ‘anoint a future king’.

When Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”, she implicitly contrasts the trust of Mary in the power of God with her own husband Zechariah’s sceptical questioning.

· Zechariah asked for proof that the word spoken by the Angel was true;

· Mary asked for an explanation of what was going to happen to her, and then

gave her willing consent.

· Zechariah, the religious professional doubted God, but Mary the peasant girl

believed, and her trust in the words of God opened the door for God to bless her

and to bless the whole world through her.

· Elizabeth celebrates the willingness of Mary to say “yes” to God.

By greeting Mary with honour, Elizabeth overturns social expectations.

· Mary is an unmarried pregnant woman. She might expect social judgment,

shame, even ostracism from her older kinswoman.

· Yet, Elizabeth knows from her own experience the cost of being shamed and

excluded. In her culture the primary purpose in life of a woman was to bear

children. So, as an elderly infertile wife she had endured a lifetime of being treated

as a failure.

· The response of Elizabeth to her miraculous pregnancy emphasizes that the

grace of God has reversed her social status: ‘This is what the Lord has done for me

when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured

among my people’[4]. At long last, in her old age, Elizabeth became an honourable

married woman, pregnant with her husband’s son.


Mary is blessed not only for her status as the Mother of the Lord, but also for her trust in the promise of God.

Our English translations obscure the fact that Elizabeth uses more than one word for “blessed”. When Elizabeth pronounces Mary “blessed … among women” and proclaims that the fruit of Mary’s womb is ‘blessed’, the Greek term eulogemene/os is used. This term reveals that both present and future generations will praise and speak well of Mary and her Child. But when Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”[5], the word used is makaria, the very same term that Jesus uses in the Beatitudes. Therefore, we might well translate Elizabeth’s words as “Happy is she who believed”.

Mary is blessed because despite all expectations, her social status has been reversed: She will be honoured rather than shamed for bearing this Child. But She has also been blessed with divine joy, -with beatitude- because She has believed that God is able to do what God promises to do.

The Paradox of Blessedness

This passage represents a kind of lyrical song on the blessedness of Mary. However, nowhere can we better see the paradox of blessedness than in her life.

· To Mary was granted the blessedness of being the Mother of the Son of God

and her heart would have been filled with joy at so great a privilege. Yet that very

same privilege was to be a sword to pierce her heart. It meant that, some day, She

would see her Son hanging on a Cross.

Often to be chosen by God can be a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow. The truth is that God does not choose a person for ease and comfort and selfish joy but for a task that will take all that head and heart and hand can bring to it.

When that is realized, the sorrows and hardships that serving God may bring are not matters for lamentation but are our glory, for all is suffered for the sake of God.


“In this Advent of expectation draw us together in unity, that our praise and worship might echo in these walls and also through our lives.

In this Advent of expectation draw us together in mission, that the hope within might be the song we sing, and the melody of our lives.

In this Advent of expectation draw us together in service, that the path we follow might lead us from a stable to a glimpse of eternity”.


o Mary brought God to Elizabeth in her heart and in her womb. We bring God to

everyone we meet, and everyone we meet brings God to us.

o Mary was called to cooperate in the salvation of the world. Her first thought was to

go and visit her older cousin, who was in need. Is there anyone who needs us


o This Visitation was a Eucharistic moment. The light of Christ comes to Elizabeth

through Mary. Both women rejoice! Mary’s one desire is to go out in loving service

to help her pregnant cousin.

§ “Lord, as Christmas draws ever closer free us from being self-absorbed and

self-centred. Instead fill us with eagerness and generosity of heart. Like Mary,

may we too go out in loving service of others and experience your Love leaping

up in us and in those with whom we come in contact.

o The Spirit of God in Elizabeth rejoiced in the presence of Mary. We pray for our

friends, for all whose companionship or example lift our hearts.

o An expectant Mother, Mary set out on her journey. She carried the Word within her.

We draw inspiration from this scene and see in it a reminder of who we am this day:

We carry the Word of God in us as nourishment for us and for those around us.

o Imagine this meeting, not of two people, but of four.

§ The forerunner and the Messiah are physically present, each in the womb of

his mother. Here, a young Galilean carries within her womb the one ‘who is and

who was and who is to come’.

§ At this remarkable point in time and space the New Covenant of God with his

people is beginning.

§ That Covenant is renewed daily in our own lives!

o Lord, you speak to us from the whole of Scripture. Do we hear your words? Or do

we refuse to believe that fulfilment awaits us when we discover and follow your will

for us?


[1] Acts 2: 33: “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear”. [2] Lk 1: 15: “He will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born”. [3] 1 Samuel 2: 1-10 [4] Lk 1: 25: “‘The Lord has done this for me’, she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people’”. [5] Lk 1: 45

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