The Feast of the Visitation: A Rookie Anglican Guide

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The Church celebrates the Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary to Elizabeth and Zechariah on May 31st. It commemorates Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, Jesus’s first meeting with John the Baptist while both were in utero, and Mary’s joyful praise as expressed in her Magnificat.

The Collect

Almighty God, by whose grace Elizabeth rejoiced with the blessed Virgin Mary and greeted her as the mother of the Lord: Look with favor on your lowly servants, that, with Mary, we may magnify your holy Name and rejoice to acclaim her Son as our Savior; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

The gospel of Luke opens with parallel narratives of the conception and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus. First, the angel Gabriel announces to the priest Zechariah that his wife, Elizabeth, will have a child in her old age, and his name will be John (Luke 1:5-25). Second, Gabriel announces to Mary that she will have a child who she is to name Jesus (Luke 1:26-38).

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Then, the pregnant Mary visits the pregnant Elizabeth, whom Gabriel had identified as “your relative” (Luke 1:36). In the Visitation, these parallel narratives meet (Luke 1:39-56). After the Visitation, the parallel narratives resume, and Luke records the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-80) and Jesus (Luke 2:1-20).

The Church keeps a cycle of feasts to remember these stories of the conception and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus, with the Visitation at the center.

  • The Conception of John (September 23rd, celebrated mainly in Eastern Churches)
  • The Annunciation (March 25th)
  • The Visitation (May 31st)
  • The Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24th)
  • Christmas (December 25th)

The First Meeting of Jesus and John

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is doubly significant because this is the first meeting of Jesus and John the Baptist. Of course, both are children in utero, though some in contemporary society would have us believe they are not yet alive. Not only are Jesus and John alive, however, but John even recognizes Jesus’ presence and leaps in Elizabeth’s womb! Elizabeth explains it to Mary this way:

Behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (Luke 1:44)

In other words, John is already demonstrating what Nehemiah and Ezra taught, that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). John is also prefiguring what he will do as an adult, pointing to Jesus as the coming messiah. That John would do this already in the womb is yet one more reason that Anglicans are pro-life.

Mary’s Magnificat

In response to Elizabeth’s greeting, Mary sings her most famous song. It is called the Magnificat, which means “magnify” and comes from the Latin translation of the first line, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

The Magnificat is reminiscent of Hannah’s Song in 1 Samuel 2 in that both glory in the God who casts down the proud and exalts the humble. Consider the comparison:

Mary: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant…he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate, (Luke 1:46-52)

HannahMy heart exults in the Lord…talk no more so very proudly…the bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength…The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts; he raises up the poor from the dust. (1 Samuel 2:1-8)

Celebrating the Visitation

The Feast of the Visitation is celebrated by reading the story from Luke. On this day, it is also fitting to contact anyone you know who is pregnant and encourage them in their pregnancy. A good charitable project would be to volunteer or donate diapers to a pregnancy center.

Finally, the Church often celebrates the Visitation by singing the Magnificat or related hymns. Here are two articles that are helpful in that regard:


Image of 14th-century German sculpture, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wikimedia Commons.

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

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