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Old Calendar: Corpus Christi; Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary; St. Petronilla, virgin

The feast of the Visitation recalls to us the following great truths and events: The visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth shortly after the Annunciation; the cleansing of John the Baptist from original sin in the womb of his mother at the words of Our Lady’s greeting; Elizabeth’s proclaiming of Mary—under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost—as Mother of God and “blessed among women”; Mary’s singing of the sublime hymn, Magnificat (“My soul doth magnify the Lord”) which has become a part of the daily official prayer of the Church. The Visitation is frequently depicted in art, and was the central mystery of St. Francis de Sales’ devotions.

The Mass of today salutes her who in her womb bore the King of heaven and earth, the Creator of the world, the Son of the Eternal Father, the Sun of Justice. It narrates the cleansing of John from original sin in his mother’s womb. Hearing herself addressed by the most lofty title of “Mother of the Lord” and realizing what grace her visit had conferred on John, Mary broke out in that sublime canticle of praise proclaiming prophetically that henceforth she would be venerated down through the centuries:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me, and holy is His name” (Lk. 1:46).

—Excerpted from the Cathedral Daily Missal

This feast is of medieval origin, it was kept by the Franciscan Order before 1263, and soon its observance spread throughout the entire Church. Previously it was celebrated on July 2. Now it is celebrated between the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord and the birth of St. John the Baptist, in conformity with the Gospel accounts. Some places appropriately observe a celebration of the reality and sanctity of human life in the womb. The liturgical color is white.

According to the 1962 Missal of Bl. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, today is the feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Petronilla. The feast of the Queenship of Mary is now celebrated in the Ordinary Rite on August 22.

Aurelia Petronilla was guided in the Faith by St. Peter, the first pope. She died three days after refusing to marry a pagan nobleman, Flaccus. There is no historic proof that she was martyred, but an early fresco clearly represents her as a martyr. Her feast is no longer on the calendar.

The Visitation
And Mary rising up in those days went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda. [Lk. 1:39]

How lyrical that is, the opening sentence of St. Luke’s description of the Visitation. We can feel the rush of warmth and kindness, the sudden urgency of love that sent that girl hurrying over the hills. “Those days” in which she rose on that impulse were the days in which Christ was being formed in her, the impulse was his impulse.

Many women, if they were expecting a child, would refuse to hurry over the hills on a visit of pure kindness. They would say they had a duty to themselves and to their unborn child which came before anything or anyone else.

The Mother of God considered no such thing. Elizabeth was going to have a child, too, and although Mary’s own child was God, she could not forget Elizabeth’s need—almost incredible to us, but characteristic of her.

She greeted her cousin Elizabeth, and at the sound of her voice, John quickened in his mother’s womb and leapt for joy.

I am come, said Christ, that they may have life and may have it more abundantly. [Jn. 10, 10] Even before He was born His presence gave life.

With what piercing shoots of joy does this story of Christ unfold! First the conception of a child in a child’s heart, and then this first salutation, an infant leaping for joy in his mother’s womb, knowing the hidden Christ and leaping into life.

How did Elizabeth herself know what had happened to Our Lady? What made her realize that this little cousin who was so familiar to her was the mother of her God?

She knew it by the child within herself, by the quickening into life which was a leap of joy.

If we practice this contemplation taught and shown to us by Our Lady, we will find that our experience is like hers.

If Christ is growing in us, if we are at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it He is forming Himself; if we go with eager wills, “in haste,” to wherever our circumstances compel us, because we believe that He desires to be in that place, we shall find that we are driven more and more to act on the impulse of His love.

And the answer we shall get from others to those impulses will be an awakening into life, or the leap into joy of the already wakened life within them.

Excerpted from The Reed of God, Caryll Houselander


What we call the “Old Testament” and what the first Christians called the “Scriptures” was regarded in the first Christian centuries as God’s own commentary on the Gospel.   Its primary function, its truest meaning is revealed when it illuminates our understanding of the Christian Mystery. Hence, we cannot really understand the Annunciation without the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve, nor can we understand the Visitation without the Visit of the Ark of the Covenant

The Fall

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

In the Fall, there were two acts of disobedience, firstly, that of Eve and, secondly, that of Adam.  Adam’s sin was facilitated by Eve’s sin and, perhaps, would not have happened if Eve had not tempted him.   However, according to primitive beliefs, it was Adam as the male that had all his human descendants stored up in seed form in  his loins, so that it was his sin, rather than that of Eve that radically changed the relationship between the human race and God.

Looking at our salvation through spectacles provided by the Adam and Eve story, we must look for two acts of humble obedience that correspond to the acts of disobedience in the story of the Fall.   These are the act of obedience of the Blessed Virgin Mary expressed in the words, “Behold the Slave of the Lord!  May it be done to me according to your Word”, and the act of obedience of Jesus expressed in the words, “Not my will but yours be done.”

Both sentences expressed a life of total commitment which led Jesus to be obedient unto death and which led Mary to the foot of the Cross and beyond to her faithful presence in the Apostolic community  until death and her Assumption.   Jesus is the New Adam and Mary is the New Eve.

The Annunciation

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore  the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

In this story, Mary is a young girl, married to Joseph but not yet old enough to be living with him.  He announces to her the Good News that she is about to become Mother of the Messiah, and she recognises that it is a vocation she simply cannot accomplish, something way beyond her powers: “How can this be since I am a virgin?” The angel’s answer, while giving her the solution, tells her that she cannot do it by herself because the child will be Son
of the Most High: she is to become the Theotokos, the “Godbearer” and can only do so by working in “sinergia” with the Holy Soirit.   The Incarnation reqiires TWO causes, the presence within her of the Holy Spirit to enable her to become Mother of God, and her own humble obedience to allow the Holy Spirit to do his work.  His power and her obedience working as one will bring about the Incarnation and will thus make possible that obedience unto death of Christ by which we have been saved.   As Eve’s disobedience created the context for the disobedience of Adam by which all were alienated from God, so Mary’s obedience created the context for Christ’s obedience by which we are saved.


Luke 1:39-45 New International Version (NIV)

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!”

The early fathers found the real significance of the Visitation in the parallel between the Ark of the Covenant and the Blessed Virgin Mary who, after the Annunciation, bore the divine Presence through the presence of Christ in her womb.  As Maximos of Turin says, “What can one say that the Ark was if not Holy Mary, because the Ark bore the tables of the Law while Mary bore the Master of those tables.”

St Luke, having shown that Mary’s vocation is only possible if the Holy Spirit and Mary’s humble obedience act completely together in unison, now wishes to show us how this works.   Through her obedience, Mary has become Christ-bearer.   She is the Ark of the Covenant, not just for herself, but for others.

Having heard her cousin Elizabeth is in need she hurriedly “rose and went” to a town in the hill country of Judea,  just as Davidrose and went” to the same area to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
After Uzzah was struck dead for inadvertently touching the Ark, David exclaimed, “How can the Ark of God come to me?“, just as Elizabeth exclaimed on meeting Mary, “But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Just as the Ark remained in the property of Obededom for three months, so Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months, and God blessed Obededom and his household.
As David danced for joy in the presence of the Ark, so the infant John the Baptist jumped for joy in his mother’s womb as his mother praised Mary and both were conscious of being in the presence of Jesus in whom God was united to his creation.

Thus the immediate result of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Mary, working through her humble obedience  which we remembered on her feast of the Annunciation, was for Mary to become the new Ark of the Covenant.  In icons this is often symbolised by the presence of two cherubim above her head. 

 On the feast of the Visitation, we see this Presence of Christ in Mary at work.  Her obedience to God is shown as she makes herself disposed to help Elizabeth.  However ordinary this visit may seem, beneath the surface of ordinary events he Holy Spirit is at work.  Her humble obedience allows the Spirit to transform an ordinary event into an event of salvation.

If Mary is the Ark of the Covenant, so is the Church that she personifies because, at its very heart is the Eucharist.  Each one of us, as we receive the eucharistic Lord into ourselves, also become Church and Ark of the Covenant; “He who eats my body and drinks my blood, I live in him and he in me.”  Christians are “Christ-bearers.”

As we are humbly obedience to God, let us ask the prayers of Our Lady that we may make Christ’s presence in the world who is present in us.  May the world see Christ’s presence in us as it shines through the quality of our love, just as it did through the love that Mary had for Elizabeth.



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