From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
OUR Lady's visit to her cousin Elizabeth already engaged our attention whilst we were preparing for the Christmas festival. But it is only fitting to return again to an event so important in our Lady’s life; the mere commemoration of this mystery made on EmberFriday in Advent would be insufficient to bring forward all it contains of deep teaching and holy joy. Since in the course of centuries the holy liturgy has been gaining more and more completeness, it is but natural that this precious mine should come to be further opened in honour of the Virgin Mother. The Order of St Francis, it would seem, as well as certain particular churches, such as Rheims and Paris for example—had already taken the initiative, when Urban VI, in 1389, instituted to-day's solemnity. The Pope counselled a fast on the vigil of the feast, and ordered that it should be followed by an octave; he granted for its celebration the same indulgences as Urban IV had, in the previous century, attached to the festival of Corpus Christi. The Bull of promulgation, stopped by the Pontiff's death, was again taken up and published by Boniface IX, his successor on the Chair of Peter.
We learn from the lessons of the Office formerly composed for this feast, that the object of its institution was, as Urban conceived it, to obtain the cessation of the schism then desolating the Church. The Papacy, exiled from Rome for seventy years, had barely re-entered it, when hell, infuriated at a return which crossed all its plans, had taken revenge by ranging under two leaders the flock of the one sheepfold, So deep was the obscurity wherewith miserable intrigues contrived to cover the authority of the legitimate shepherd, that numbers of churches, in all good faith, began to hesitate, and ended at last in preferring the deceptive staff of a hireling. Thicker yet was the darkness to grow, till night should be so dense, that for a moment the conflicting mandates of three Popes would simultaneously spread through the world; whilst the faithful, struck with stupor, would be at an utter loss to discern accurately which was the voice of Christ's true Vicar. Never had the bride of the Son of God been in a more piteous situation. But our Lady, to whom the true Pontiff had turned at the first rising of the storm, did not betray the Church's confidence. During all those years whilst the unfathomable justice of the Most High let the powers of hell hold sway, she stood for the defence of holy Church, trampling the head of the old serpent so thoroughly under her victorious foot, that in spite of the terrific confusion he had stirred up, he was unable to sully the faith of the people. Their attachment was steadfast to the unity of the Roman See, whosoever might be, in this uncertainty, its veritable occupant. Thus the West, divided in fact, but in principle ever one and undivided, reunited herself spontaneously as soon as God's moment came for the return of light. The hour having arrived for the Queen of saints to assume the offensive, she would not content herself with merely re-establishing at its former post the army of the elect; Satan now must expiate his audacity by being forced to yield back to holy Church those conquests which for centuries had seemed his for ever. The dragon still raged at Basle, when Florence already beheld the heads of Greek schism, the Armenians and the Ethiopians, the cavillers of Jerusalem, of Syria and of Mesopotamia, all compensating by their unhoped-for adhesion to the Roman Pontiff for the anguish just suffered in the West.
It was now to be shown that such a return of nations, in the very midst even of the tempest, was indeed the work of her who had been called upon by the pilot, half a century before, to succour the bark of Peter. Even they of the factious assembly of Basle gave proof of this, in a way which has unfortunately been too much overlooked by historians who undervalue the high importance that liturgical facts hold in the history of Christendom. When about to separate, these last abettors of the schism devoted the forty-third session of their pretended council to the promulgation of this feast of the Visitation, in the establishment of which Urban VI had, from the outset, placed all his hopes. Notwithstanding the resistance of some of the more obstinate, the schism may, from that hour, be said to have ended. The storm was subsiding; the name of Mary, invoked thus by both sides, shone resplendent as the sign of peace amidst the clouds, even as the rainbow in its sweet radiance unites both extremities of the horizon. ‘Look upon it,’ says the Holy Ghost, ‘and bless him that made it: it is very beautiful in its brightness. It encompasseth the heaven about with the circle of its glory: the hands of the Most High have displayed it.’
But, it may be asked, why was the feast of the Visitation specially chosen, more than any other, as the monument of restored peace? The answer seems to be suggested in the very nature of the mystery itself and in the manner of its accomplishment.
Here, more particularly, does Mary appear as the Ark of the Covenant, bearing within her the Emmanuel, the living testimony of a more true reconciliation, of an alliance more sublime between earth and heaven, than that limited compact of servitude entered into between Jehovah and the Jews, amidst the roar of thunder. By her means, far better than through Adam, all men are now brethren; for he whom she hides within her is to be the first-born of the great family of the sons of God. Scarcely is he conceived than there begins for him the mighty work of universal propitiation. Arise, then, O Lord, thou and the Ark which thou hast sanctified, whence thine own sanctity will pour down upon the earth! During the whole of her rapid passage from Nazareth to the mountains of Judea, she shall be protected by wings of Cherubim jealously eager to contemplate her glory. Amidst his truest warriors, amidst Israel's choirs of singing men, David conducted the figurative Ark from the house of Aminadab to that of Obed-edom; but better far is the escort deputed by the eternal Father for this sacred Ark of the new Covenant, troops of the noblest princes of the heavenly phalanx.
Favoured with benediction was that Levite’s house, while for three months it sheltered the Most High hidden on the golden propitiatory: more favoured still the home of the priest Zachary, harbouring, for the same lapse of time, eternal Wisdom enshrined in the virginal womb, wherein that union, so desired by his love, had just been accomplished. Yet beneath Zachary's roof, blessed as it was, the enemy of God and man was still holding one captive: the angelic embassy that had announced John's miraculous conception and birth could not exempt him from the shameful tribute that every son of Adam must pay to the prince of death, on entering into this life. As formerly at Azotus, so now Dagon may not remain standing erect in face of the Ark. Mary appears, and Satan, at once overturned, is subjected to utter defeat in John's soul, a defeat that is not to be his last; for the Ark of the Covenant will not stay its victories till the reconciliation of the last of the elect be effected.
Let us, then, hail this day with songs of gladness: for this mystery contains the germ of every victory gained by the Church and her sons: henceforth the sacred Ark is borne at the head of every combat waged by the new Israel. Division between man and his God is at an end, between the Christian and his brethren! The ancient Ark was powerless to prevent the division of the tribes; henceforth if schism and heresy do hold out for a few years against Mary, it shall be but to evince more fully her glorious triumph at last. In all ages, because of her, even as to-day under the eyes of the enemy now put to confusion, little ones shall rejoice, all shall be filled with benediction, and Pontiffs shall be perfected. Let us join the tribute of our songs to John’s exulting gladness, to Elizabeth’s sudden exclamations, to Zachary’s canticle; therewith let earth re-echo! Thus in bygone days was the Ark hailed as it entered the Hebrew camp. Hearing their shout, the Philistines learned that help had come from the Lord; and, seized with terror, they groaned aloud saying: 'Woe to us; for there was no such great joy yesterday and the day before: woe to us!’ Verily this day the whole human race, together with John, leaps for joy and shouts with a great shout; verily this day has the old enemy good reason to lament: the heel of the woman, as she stamps him down, makes his haughty head to wince for the first time: and John, set free, is hereby the precursor of us all. More happy are we, the new Israel, than was the old, for our glory shall never be taken away; never shall be wrested from us that sacred Ark which has led us dry-shod across the river, and has levelled fortresses to the dust at its approach.
Justly then is this day, whereon an end is put to the series of defeats begun in Eden, the day of new canticles for a new people! Yet who may intone the hymn of triumph but she to whom the victory belongs?‘Arise,arise, O Debbora, arise; arise and utter a canticle. The valiant men ceased and rested in Israel, until Mary arose, the true Debbora, until a mother arose in Israel. It is I, it is I,’ saith she, 'that will sing to the Lord. I will sing to the Lord the God of Israel. O magnify the Lord with me, as saith my grandsire David, and let us extol his Name together. My heart hath rejoiced, like that of Anna, in God my Saviour. For even as in his handmaid Judith, by me he hath fulfilled his mercy, so that my praise shall not depart out of the mouth of men who shall be mindful of the power of the Lord for ever. For mighty is he that hath done great things in me; there is none holy as he. Even as by Esther, he hath throughout all generations saved those who feared him; in the power of his arm, he hath turned against the impious one the projects of his own heart, driving proud Aman out of his seat and uplifting the humble; the bow of the mighty is overcome, and the weak are girt with strength; the abundance of them that were rich hath passed to the hungry, and they are filled; he hath remembered his people, and hath had pity on his inheritance. Such, indeed, was the promise that Adam received and our fathers have handed down unto us: and he hath done to them even as he had promised.’
Daughters of Sion and all ye who groan in the thraldom of Satan, the hymn of deliverance has sounded in our land! Following in her train, who beareth within her the pledge of alliance, let us form into choirs; better than Mary, Aaron’s sister, and by yet juster title, she leads the concerts of Israel. So sings she on this day of triumph, and the burthen of her song gathers into one all the victorious chants which, in the ages of expectation, preluded this divine canticle of hers. But the past victories of the elect people were but figures of that which is gained by our glorious Queen on this day of her manifestation; for she, beyond Debbora, Judith or Esther, has truly brought about the deliverance of her people; in her mouth the accents of her illustrious predecessors pass from the burning aspiration of the prophetic age to the calm ecstasy which denotes that she is already in possession of the long-expected God. A new era is fitly inaugurated by sacred chants: divine praise receives from Mary that character which henceforth it is never to lose, even in eternity.
The preceding considerations have been suggested by the special motive which led the Church to institute this feast in the fourteenth century. Again, in our own day, has Mary shown that this date is indeed for her a day of victory. On the second of July, in the year 1849, Rome was restored to the exiled Pontiff Pius IX. But we should far exceed the limits of our present scope, were we to strive to exhaust the teachings of this vast mystery of the Visitation. Besides, some have been already given in our Advent volume; and others more recently on the feast and octave-day of St John’s Nativity. What we mean to add further on the subject is brought to light by the Epistle and Gospel of the Mass given below.
The antiphons used in the Office of this day are all taken from the Gospel, and reproduce historically the mystery we are celebrating.
Ant. Exsurgens Maria, abiit in montana cum festinatione in civitatem Juda.
Ant. Mary rising up, went into the hill country, with haste, into a city of Juda.
Ps. Dixit Dominus, p. 35.
Ant. Intravit Maria in domum Zachariæ, et salutavit Elisabeth.
Ant. Mary entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth.
Ps. Laudate pueri, p. 39.
Ant. Ut audivit salutationem Mariæ Elisabeth, exsultavit infans in utero ejus, et repleta est Spiritu sancto. Alleluia.
Ant. When Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb: and she was filled with the Holy Ghost. Alleluia.
Lætatus sum in his quæ dicta sunt mihi: In domum Domini ibimus.
Stantes erant pedes nostri: in atriis tuis, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem quæ aedifìcatur ut civitas: cujus participatio ejus in idipsum.
Illuc enim ascenderunt tribus, tribus Domini: testimonium Israel ad confìtendum nomini Domini.
Quia illic sederunt sedes in judicio: sedes super domum David.
Rogate quæ ad pacem sunt Jerusalem: et abundantia diligentibus te.
Fiat pax in virtute tua: et abundantia in turribus tuis.
Propter fratres meos et proximos meos: loquebar pacem de te.
Propter domum Domini Dei nostri: quæsivi bona tibi.
ANT. Ut audivit salutationem Mariae Elisabeth, exsultavit infans in utero ejus, et repleta est Spiritu sancto. Alleluia.
I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go unto Mary, the house of the Lord.
Our feet were standing in thy courts, O Jerusalem! Our heart loves and confides in thee, O Mary.
Mary is like to Jerusalem that is built as a city; which is compact together.
For thither did the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord: the testimony of Israel, to praise the name of the Lord.
Because seats sat there in judgement; seats upon the house of David; and Mary is of a kingly race.
Pray ye, through Mary, for the things that are for the peace of Jerusalem; and may abundance be on them that love thee, O Church of our God!
The voice of Mary; Let peace be in thy strength, O thou new Sion! and abundance in thy towers.
I, a daughter of Israel, for the sake of my brethren and of my neighbours, spoke peace of thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God, I have sought good things for thee.
ANT. When Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb: and she was filled with the Holy Ghost. Alleluia.
ANT. Benedicta tu inter mulieres, et benedictus fructus ventris tui.
ANT. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum: in vanum laboraverunt qui ædificant eam.
Nisi Dominus custodierit civitatem: frustra vigilat qui custodit eam.
Vanum est vobis ante lucem surgere: surgite postquam sederitis, qui manducatis panem doloris.
Cum dederit dilectis suis somnum: ecce hæreditas Domini, filii, merces, fructus ventris.
Sicut sagittæ in manu potentis: ita filii excussorum.
Beatus vir qui impievit desiderium suum ex ipsis: non confundetur cum loquetur inimicis suis in porta.
ANT. Benedicta tu inter mulieres, et benedictus fructus ventris tui.
Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.
Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it.
It is vain for you to rise before light; rise ye after you have sitten, you that eat of the bread of sorrow.
When he shall give sleep to his beloved: behold the inheritance of the Lord are children; the reward, the fruit of the womb.
As arrows in the hand of the mighty, so the children of them that have been shaken.
Blessed is the man that hath filled his desire with them; he shall not be confounded when he shall speak to his enemies in the gate.
ANT. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
Ant. Ex quo facta est vox salutationis tuæ in auribus meis, exsultavit infans in utero meo. Alleluia.
Ant. For behold, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Alleluia.
Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum: lauda Deum tuum, Sion.
Quoniam confortavit seras portarum tuarum: benedixit filiis tuis in te.
Qui posuit fines tuos pacem: et adipe frumenti satiat te.
Qui emittit eloquium suum terræ; velociter currit sermo ejus.
Qui dat nivem sicut lanam: nebulam sicut cinerem spargit.
Mittit crystallum suam sicut buccellas: ante faciem frigoris ejus quis sustinebit?
Emittet verbum suum, et liquefaciet ea: flabit spiritus ejus, et fluent aquæ.
Qui annuntiat verbum suum Jacob: justitias et judicia sua Israel.
Non fecit taliter omni nationi: et judicia sua non manifcstavit eis.
ANT. Ex quo facta est vox salutationis tuæ in auribus meis, exsultavit infans in utero meo. Alleluia.
Praise the Lord, O Mary, thou true Jerusalem: O Mary, O Sion ever holy, praise thy God.
Because he hath strengthened against sin the bolts of thy gates: he hath blessed thy children within thee.
Who hath placed peace in thy borders: and filleth thee with the fat of corn, with Jesus who is the Bread of life.
Who sendeth forth by thee his word to the earth: his word runneth swiftly.
Who giveth snow like wool: scattereth mists like ashes.
He sendeth his crystal like morsels: who shall stand before the face of his cold?
He shall send forth his word, by Mary, and shall melt them: his spirit shall breathe, and the waters shall run.
Who declareth his word to Jacob: his justices and his judgements to Israel.
He hath not done in like manner to every nation: and his judgements he hath not made manifest to them, as he hath in these our days.
ANT. For behold, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Alleluia.
The psalms have sung of the exalted greatness of him whom the humility of Mary has attracted to her, and by whom she has been manifested for the first time to the world, as the city of God, built by him with love; this she herself proclaims to-day while praising the Lord her God. The capitulum is borrowed, as also are the psalms and hymn, from the common Office of our Lady; it tells of that august predestination wherein, before all ages, were inseparably united eternal Wisdom and this Woman blessed above all those from whom she was one day to be born.
Ab initio et ante sæccula creata sum, et usque ad futurum sæculum non desinam, et in habitatione sancta coram ipso ministravi.
From the beginning and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling-place I have ministered before him.
Ave, maris stella,
Dei Mater alma,
Atque semper Virgo,
Felix cœli porta.
Sumens illud Ave
Funda nos in pace,
Mutans Evæ nomen.
Solve vincla reis,
Profer lumen cæcis,
Mala nostra pelle,
Bona cuncta posce.
Monstra te esse Matrem,
Sumat per te preces
Qui, pro nobis natus,
Tulit esse tuus.
Inter omnes mitis;
Nos culpis solutos,
Mites fac et castos.
Vitam præsta puram,
Iter para tutum,
Ut videntes Jesum,
Sit laus Deo Patri,
Summo Christo decus,
Tribus honor unus.
Hail, star of the sea!
Blessed Mother of God,
yet ever a Virgin!
O happy gate of heaven!
Thou that didst receive the Ave
from Gabriel's lips,
confirm us in peace,
and so let Eva be changed into an Ave of blessing for us.
Loose the sinner's chains,
bring light to the blind,
drive from us our evils,
and ask all good things for us.
Show thyself a Mother,
and offer our prayers to him,
who would be born of thee,
when born for us.
O incomparable Virgin,
and meekest of the meek,
obtain us the forgiveness of our sins,
and make us meek and chaste.
Obtain us purity of life,
and a safe pilgrimage;
that we may be united with thee
in the blissful vision of Jesus.
Praise be to God the Father,
and to the Lord Jesus,
and to the Holy Ghost:
to the Three one self-same praise.
℣. Benedicta tu in mulieribus.
℟. Et benedictus fructus ventris tui.
℣. Blessed art thou among women.
℟. And blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
Every day the solemn evening Office borrows from Mary’s canticle its sweetest fragrance. Nor is Good Friday itself an exception: even on that day, at Vespers, holy Church throughout the world invites our Lady to sing it beside the Cross whereon the terrible drama has just been completed. The reason is, that this incomparable canticle has for its object the entire redemption. At the foot of the holy Rood, no less than on days such as this full of sweetness, that which predominates in Mary and overrules alike all her anguish and all her joy is the thought of God's glory being at last satisfied; of man’s salvation being at last secured. Now, on this feast, the mysteries of the entire cycle having so lately passed one by one before our eyes, the Magnificat resounds, as it were, in all its fullness of tone, whilst receiving, at the same time, from this solemnity itself all the freshness of the first day on which earth caught its notes.
Antiphon of the Magnificat
Beata es, Maria, quæ credidisti: perficientur in te quæ dicta sunt tibi a Domino. Alleluia.
Blessed art thou, O Mary, who hast believed: those things shall be accomplished in thee which were told thee by the Lord. Alleluia.
The Prayer is the Collect of the Mass, p. 407.
A commemoration is then made of the octave of St John the Baptist, p. 261.
On this day whereon Satan, for the first time, sees his infernal crew fall back in face of the sacred Ark, two warriors of the army of the elect take their rank in our Queen's cortège. Deputed by Peter himself, during this his glad octave, to wait upon Mary, they have earned this honour by reason of their faith, which taught them to recognize in Nero's condemned criminal the chief of God's people.
The prince of the apostles was awaiting his martyrdom in the dungeon of the Mamertine prison, when, led by divine mercy, there came to him two Roman soldiers, whose names have become inseparable from his own in the Church's memory. One was called Processus, the other Martinianus. They were struck by the dignity of the old man, confided for some hours to their ward, who would not see daylight again until he was led out to execution. Peter spoke to them of life eternal, and of the Son of God who so loved men as to give the last drop of his Blood for their ransom. Processus and Martinianus received with docile heart this unexpected instruction; they accepted it with simple faith, and craved the grace of regeneration. But water was wanting in the dungeon, and Peter was forced to make use of the power to command nature, bestowed by our Lord upon the apostles when he sent them into the world. At the word of the old man a fountain sprang up from the ground, and the two soldiers were baptized in the miraculous water. Christian piety still venerates this fountain, which never either brims over or dries up. Processus and Martinianus soon paid with their life for the honour conferred upon them of being thus initiated into the Christian faith by the prince of the apostles, and they are numbered among God's martyrs.
Their cultus is as ancient as that of Peter himself. In the age of peace, a basilica was raised over their tomb. St Gregory pronounced there, on the solemn anniversary of their combat, his thirty-second homily on the Gospel. The great Pontiff therein renders testimony to the miracles which were operated on that holy spot, and he celebrates, in particular, the power which those two saints have of protecting their devout clients on the day of the Lord's justice. Later on, St Paschal I enriched the basilica of the prince of the apostles with their bodies. They now occupy the place of honour in the left arm of the Latin cross formed by the immense edifice, and they give their name to the whole of this side of the transept, wherein the Vatican Council held its immortal sessions; it was fitting that this august assembly should carry on its labours under the patronage of these two valiant warriors, who were not only St Peter's guards, but his conquest in the days of his own glorious confession. Let us not forget these illustrious protectors of holy Church. The feast of the Visitation, of more recent institution, has not lessened theirs; though their glory is now, so to say, lost in that of our Lady, their power can but have gained in strength by this approximation to the gentle Queen of earth and heaven.
The Introit is that of the Votive Masses of our Lady for this part of the year. It is taken from Sedulius, the Christian poet of the fifth century, from whom the holy liturgy borrowed so many graceful pieces at Christmas and Epiphany. Who can fail to recognize to-day, in the sublime Magnificat which is the glory of this festival, the good word of which our Introit verse sings, or, in other words, the work which the Virgin Mother offers to the King!
Salve, sancta parens, enixa puerpera Regem: qui cœlum terramque regit in sæcula sæculorum.
Ps. Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum: dico ego opera mea Regi. ℣. Gloria Patri. Salve.
Hail, holy Mother, who didst bring forth the King, who rules heaven and earth for ever.
Ps. My heart hath uttered a good word: I speak my works to the King. ℣. Glory, etc. Hail.
Peace is the precious gift which earth has been ceaselessly imploring since the original fall. Rejoice, then, now: for the Prince of peace this day reveals himself by Mary. The solemn commemoration of the mystery which we are celebrating will develop within us the work of salvation begun in that of Christmas at the opening of our cycle. Let us beg this grace, in the words of the Church in her Collect.
Famulis tuis, quæsumus Domine, cœlestis gratiæ munus impertire: ut, quibus beatæ Virginis partus exstrtit salutis exordium, Visitationis ejus votiva solemnitas pacis tribuat incrementum. Per Dominum.
We beseech thee, O Lord, to bestow on thy servants the gift of heavenly grace, that for those to whom the blessed Virgin's childbirth was the be ginning of salvation, the votive solemnity of her Visitation may procure increase of peace. Through our Lord, etc.
In private Masses, at the end of the Collect, Secret and Postcommunion of the feast, a commemoration is made of the holy martyrs Processus and Martinianus.
Deus, qui nos sanctorum martyrum tuorum Processi et Martiniani gloriosis confessionibus circumdas et protegis: da nobis, et eorum imitatione proficere, et intercessione gaudere. Per Dominum.
O God, who dost surround and protect us by the glorious confessions of thy holy martyrs, Processus and Martinianus: grant us to profit by their example, and rejoice in their intercession. Through our Lord, etc.
Lectio libri Sapientiæ.
Ecce iste venit saliens in montibus, transiliens colles: similis est dilectus meus capreæ, hinnuloque cervorum. En ipse stat post parietem nostrum, respiciens per fenestras, prospiciens per cancellos. En dilectus meus loquitur mihi: Surge, propera, amica mea, columba mea, formosa mea, et veni. Jam enim hiems transiit, imber abiit, et recessit. Flores apparuerunt in terra nostra, tempus putationis advenit: vox turturis audita est in terra nostra: ficus protulit grossos suos: vineæ florentes dederunt odorem suum. Surge, amica mea, speciosa mea, et veni: columba mea in foraminibus petræ, in caverna maceriæ, ostende mihi faciem tuam, sonet vox tua in auribus meis: vox enim tua dulcis, et facies tua decora.
Lesson from the Book of Wisdom.
Behold he cometh, leaping upon the mountains, skipping over the hills. My beloved is like a roe or a young hart. Behold he standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices. Behold my beloved speaketh to me: Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. For winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land, the time of pruning is come, the voice of the turtle is heard in our land: the fig-tree hath put forth her green figs, the vines in flower yield their sweet smell. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come. My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall, show me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears, for thy voice is sweet and thy face comely.
The Church introduces us into the depth of the mystery. What she has just been reading to us is the explanation of that word of Elizabeth's which sums up the whole of to-day’s feast: 'When thy voice sounded in mine ear, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’ O voice of Mary, voice of the turtledove, putting winter to flight, and announcing springtide flowers and fragrance! At this sweet sound John’s soul, a captive in the darkness of sin, casts off the badge of slavery, and suddenly developing germs of highest virtues, appears as beautiful as a bride decked in nuptial array: and, therefore, how Jesus hastes unto this well-beloved soul! Between John and the Bridegroom, oh! what ineffable outpourings! what sublime dialogues pass between them, from womb to womb of Mary and Elizabeth! Admirable mothers! Sons yet more admirable! In this happy meeting, the sight, the hearing, the voice of the mothers belong less to themselves than to the blessed fruit each bears within her; thus their senses are the lattices through which the Bridegroom and the friend of the Bridegroom see one another, understand one another, speak one to the other!
The animal man, it is true, understands not this language. 'Father,’ the Son of God will soon exclaim: ‘ I give thee thanks for that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. Let him, therefore, that hath ears to hear, hear; but, Amen, I say unto you, unless ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven, nor know its mysteries.’ Wisdom shall nevertheless be justified by her children, as the Gospel says. The simple-hearted in quest of light, with all the straightforwardness of humility, let pass unheeded those mocking shadows playing over the marshes of this world; they know that the first ray of the eternal Sun will disperse these phantoms, leaving emptiness before those who run in pursuit of them. These wise little ones already feed upon that which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,having a foretaste, here below, of eternal delights.
Ineffably is John the Baptist experiencing all this. Accosted by the divine Friend who has been beforehand in seeking him, his soul at once awakens to full ecstasy. Jesus, on his side, is now making his first conquest; for it is to John that is first addressed amongst all creatures (Mary of course excepted) the sacred nuptial-song uttered to the soul of the Word made Flesh, making his divine Heart throb with emotion. To-day the prophecy of the Magnificat was first uttered, and to-day also the divine union expressed by the Holy Ghost in the Canticle of Canticles is fully realized. Never more fully than on this happy day shall the sacred transports of the Spouse be justified; never shall they find a more faithful response! Let us warm ourselves at these celestial fires; let us join our enthusiasm to that of eternal Wisdom, who makes his first step, this day, in his royal progress towards mankind. Let us unite with our Lord in imploring the Precursor at last to show himself. Were it not ordered otherwise from on high, his inebriation of love would verily have made him at once break down the wall that held him from appearing, then and there, to announce the Bridegroom. For he knows that the sight of his countenance, preceding the face of the Lord himself, will excite the whole earth to transports; he knows that his own voice will be sweet when once it has become the organ of the Word calling the bride to him.
Together with Elizabeth let us extol, in the Gradual, the Blessed Virgin to whom we owe all these joys, and within whom love still encloses him whom the whole world could not contain. The distich which is sung in the verse was especially dear to the piety of the Middle Ages; it is to be found in different liturgies, either as the opening line of the hymn, or under the form of an antiphon, in the composition of Masses or of Offices.
Benedicta et venerabilis es, Virgo Maria, quæ sine tactu pudoris, inventa es Mater Salvatoris.
℣. Virgo Dei Genitrix, quem totus non capit orbis, in tua se clausit viscera factus homo. Alleluia, alleluia.
℣. Felix es, sacra Virgo Maria, et omni laude dignissima: quia ex te ortus est Sol justitiæ, Christus Deus noster. Alleluia.
Thou art blessed and venerable, O Virgin Mary: who without any violation of purity, wert found the Mother of our Saviour.
℣. O Virgin Mother of God, he whom the whole world is unable to contain, being made Man, enclosed himself in thy womb. Alleluia, alleluia.
℣. Thou art happy, O holy Virgin Mary, and most worthy of all praise: because from thee arose the Sun of justice, Christ our God. Alleluia.
Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam.
In illo tempore: Exsurgens Maria, abiit in montana cum festinatione in civitatem Juda. Et intravit in domum Zachariæ, et salutavit Elisabeth. Et factum est, ut audivit salutationem Mariæ Elisabeth, exsultavit infans in utero ejus; et repleta est Spiritu sancto Elisabeth: et exclamavit voce magna, et dixit: Benedicta tu inter mulieres, et benedictus fructus ventris tui. Et unde hoc mihi ut veniat mater Domini mei ad me? Ecce enim utfacta est vox salutationis tuæ in auribus meis, exsultavit in gaudio infans in utero meo. Et beata quæ credidisti, quoniam perficientur ea quæ dicta sunt tibi a Domino. Et ait Maria: Magnificat anima mea Dominum, et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke.
At that time, Mary rising up went into a hill country with haste, into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost; and she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord. And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord; and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Mary, having learned from the archangel that Elizabeth was about to become a mother, is preoccupied with the thought of the services that will soon be needed for her cousin and the infant; she, therefore, starts at once on her journey across the mountains, amidst which stands the house of Zachary. Thus does the charity of Christ act, thus does it press, when it is genuine. There is no state of soul in which, under pretext of more exalted perfection, the Christian may be allowed to forget his brethren. Mary had just contracted the highest union with God; and our imagination might perhaps be inclined to picture her, as it were, in a state of powerlessness, lost in ecstasy during these days in which the Word, taking Flesh of her flesh, is inundating her in return with the floods of his Divinity. The Gospel, however, is explicit on this subject: it particularly says that it was in those days that the humble Virgin, hitherto quietly hidden in the secret of the Lord's face, rose up to devote herself to all the bodily as well as the spiritual needs of a neighbour in such condition. This does not mean to say that works are superior to prayer, and that contemplation is not the better part; for, indeed, never did our Lady so directly and so fully adhere to God with her whole being as at this time. But when the creature has attained the summits of the unitive life, he is all the more apt and fitted for exterior works, inasmuch as no lending of himself thereto can distract him from the immovable centre wherein he is fixed.
This is a signal privilege, resulting from that division of the spirit and the soul, to which all do not attain, and which marks one of the most decisive steps in the spiritual life; for it supposes a purification of man's entire being so perfect, that in very truth he is no other than one spirit with the Lord; it entails so absolute a submission of the powers that, without clashing one with the other, they yield, each in its particular sphere, obedience simultaneously to divine inspiration.
So long as the Christian has not yet crossed this last defile, defended with such obstinacy by nature to the end, so long as he has not yet won that holy liberty of the children of God, he cannot possibly turn to man, without in some way quitting God. Not that he ought, on that account, to neglect his duties towards his neighbour, in whom God wishes us to see no other than himself; nevertheless, blessed is he who, like Mary, loses naught of the better part, while he attends to his obligations towards others! Yet how few are such privileged souls, and what a delusion it is to persuade ourselves to the contrary!
We shall return to these thoughts on the day of our Lady's triumphant Assumption; but the Gospel to which we have just been listening makes it a duty for us to draw the attention of the reader to this point. Our Lady has especially on this feast a claim to be invoked as the model of those who devote themselves to works of mercy; and although it is not given to all equally to keep their spirits immersed in God, yet ought they constantly to strive to approach, by the practice of recollection and divine praise, to those luminous heights whereon their Queen shows herself this day in all the plenitude of her ineffable perfections.
The Offertory sings of the glorious privileges of Mary, Mother and Virgin, bringing forth him who made her.
Beata es, Virgo Maria, quæ omnium portasti Creatorem: genuisti qui te fecit, et in æternum permanes virgo.
Thou art blessed, O Virgin Mary, who didst bear the Creator of all things: thou didst bring forth him who made thee, and thou remainest for ever a Virgin.
The Son of God, being bom of Mary, consecrated her virginal integrity. Let us beg of him in to-day's Secret to vouchsafe, in memory of his Mother, to purify us from every stain, and so render our offering acceptable to God on high.
Unigeniti tui, Domine, nobis succurrat humanitas: ut, qui natus de Virigine, matris integritatem non minuit, sed sacravit: in Visitationis ejus solemniis, nostris nos piaculis exuens, oblationem nostram tibi faciat acceptam Jesus Christus Dominus noster. Qui tecum.
May the Humanity of thy only-begotten Son succour us, O Lord; that Jesus Christ our Lord, who when born of a Virgin, did not diminish, but consecrated the integrity of his Mother, may on this solemnity of her Visitation, deliver us from our sins, and make our oblation acceptable to thee. Who liveth, etc.
Commemoration of SS Processus and Martinianus.
Suscipe, Domine, preces et munera: quæ ut tuo sint digna conspectu, sanctorum tuorum precibus adjuvemur. Per Dominum.
Receive, O Lord, our prayers and offerings, and that they may be worthy of thy regard, may we be helped by the prayers of thy saints. Through our Lord, etc.
Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere, Domine sanete, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus: et te in Visitatione beatæ Mariæ semper virginis collaudare, benedicere, et prædicare. Quæ et Unigenitum tuum sancti Spiritus obumbratione concepit, et virginitatis gloria permanente, lumen æternum mundo effudit Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem majestatem tuam laudant Angeli, adorant Dominationes, tremunt Potestates, Cœli, cœlorumque Virtutes, ac beata Seraphim, socia exsultatione concelebrant. Cum quibus et nostras voces ut admitti jubeas deprecamur, supplici confessione dicentes: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should always, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God: and that we should praise, bless, and glorify thee on the Visitation of the blessed Mary ever a Virgin, who by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost conceived thine onlybegotten Son, and, the glory of her virginity still remaining, brought forth the eternal light to the world, Jesus Christ our Lord. By whom the Angels praise thy majesty, the Dominations adore it, the Powers tremble before it; the Heavens, the heavenly Virtues, and blessed Seraphim, with common jubilee glorify it. Together with whom we beseech thee that we may be admitted to join our humble voices, saying: Holy, Holy, Holy.
The Church possesses now within her, in the sacred Mysteries, the same Son of the eternal Father whom Mary bore for nine months in her blessed womb. Therein did he take flesh, in order to come to us all. Let us then hail, in our Communion antiphon, both the Mother and the Son.
Beata viscera Mariae Virginis, quæ portaverunt aeterni Patris Filium.
Blessed is the womb of the Virgin Mary, which bore the Son of the eternal Father.
The celebration of each one of the mysteries of our salvation, by the participation of the divine Sacrament which contains them all, is a means of obtaining that evil be kept far from us, both in this world and the next. This thought is expressed in the Postcommunion touching on to-day's mystery,
Sumpsimus, Domine, celebritatis annuæ votiva sacramenta: præsta, quæsumus; ut et temporalis vitæ nobis remedia præbeant et æternæ.
We have received, O Lord, the votive mysteries of this annual celebration; grant, we beseech thee, that they may bestow upon us remedies both for time and eternity. Through our Lord, etc.
Commemoration of SS Processus and Martinianus.
Corporis sacri, et pretiosi Sanguinis repleti libamine, quæsumus Domine Deus noster: ut quod pia devotione gerimus, certa redemptione capiamus. Per eumdem Dominum.
Replenished with the nourishment of thy sacred Body and precious Blood, we beseech thee, O Lord our God, that what we perform with pious devotion, we may receive with assured redemption. Through the same, etc.
The antiphons, psalms, capitulum, hymn, and versicle are the same as in First Vespers, p. 400.
Antiphon of the Magnificat
Beatam me dicent omnes generationes, quia ancillam humilem respexit Deus. Alleluia.
All generations shall call me blessed, because God hath regarded his humble handmaid. Alleluia.
The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries have celebrated, in graceful compositions, the mystery of this day. The following hymn, by its warm expressions of tender piety towards the Mother of God, more particularly excited the rage of the pretended reformers. What specially roused their wrath was the call to unity which it addresses to the erring. According to what we were saying above as to the motive which prompted holy Church to establish this festival of the Visitation, Mary is in like manner invoked, in other formulas of this period, proper to the same feast, as the light which dissipates clouds, which puts an end to schisms.
Veni præcelsa Domina,
Maria, tu nos visita,
Ægras mentes illumina
Per sacra vitæ munia.
Veni salvatrix sæculi,
Sordes aufer piaculi,
In visitando populum
Pœnæ tollas periculum.
Veni regina gentium,
Dele flammas reatuum,
Rege quemcumque devium,
Da vitam innocentium.
Veni et ægros visites,
Maria, vires robores
Virtute sacri impetus,
Ne fluctuetur animus.
Veni stella, lux marium,
Infunde pacis radium,
Exsultet cor in gaudium
Joannis ante Dominum.
Veni virga regalium,
Reduc fluctus errantium
Ad unitatem fidei
In qua salvantur cœlici.
Veni, deposce Spiritus
Sancti dona propensius,
Ut dirigamur rectius
In hujus vitæ actibus.
Veni, laudemus Filium,
Laudemus Sanctum Spiritum
Laudemus Patrem unicum,
Qui nobis det auxilium.
Come, sovereign Lady,
O Mary, do thou visit us,
illumine our sickly souls by the example
of thy duties performed in life.
Come, O co-redemptrix of the world,
take away the filth of sin,
by visiting thy people,
remove their peril of chastisement.
Come, O Queen of nations,
extinguish the flames of the guilty,
rectify whatsoever is wrong,
give us to live innocently.
Come, and visit the sick,
O Mary, fortify the strong
with the vigour of thy holy impetuosity,
so that brave courage droop not.
Come, O thou star, O thou light of the ocean waves,
shed thy ray of peace upon us;
let the heart of John exult
with joy before the Lord.
Come, O thou regal sceptre,
lead back the crowd of erring ones
to the unity of the faith,
in which the heavenly citizens are saved.
Come, and willingly implore for us
the gifts of the Holy Ghost,
so that we may be directed
aright in the actions of this life.
Come, let us praise the Son,
let us praise the Holy Ghost,
let us praise the Father, one God,
who giveth us succour.
‘Who is she that cometh forth beautiful as the morning rising, terrible as an army set in array?' O Mary, this is the day on which thine exquisite brightness, for the first time, gladdens the earth. Thou bearest within thee the Sun of justice; and his early beams, striking first the mountain tops whilst the vales below are yet left in darkness, at once enlighten the Precursor, who is said to be the greatest ever born of woman. This divine Sun, swift in his ascending course, will soon bathe the lowly valleys in his radiant fires. But how full of grace and beauty are these his first gleams peering through the veiling cloud! For thou, O Mary, art the light cloud, the hope of earth, the terror of hell. Contemplating from afar, through its heavenly transparency, the mystery of this day, Elias, the father of prophets, and Isaias, their prince, did both of them descry the Lord. They beheld thee speeding thy way across the mountains, and they blessed God; 'for,’ saith the Holy Ghost, 'when winter hath congealed the waters into crystal, withered the valleys, and consumed as with fire the green mountains, a present remedy to all is the speedy coming of a cloud.'
Haste, O Mary! Come thou to all of us; do not let the mountains alone enjoy thy benign influence; bend thee down to those lowly, ignoble regions wherein the greater part of mankind but vegetates, helpless to scale the mountain heights; let thy kindly visit reach down even to the deepest abyss of human perversity wellnigh bordering on the gulf of hell; let the beams of saving light reach even there. Oh! would that from the thraldom of sin, from the plain where the vulgar throng is swaying to and fro, we were drawn to follow in thy train! How beauteous are thy footsteps along our humble pathways, how aromatic the perfumes wherewith thou dost inebriate earth this day! Thou wast all unknown, nay, thou wast even an enigma to thyself, O thou fairest among the daughters of Adam, until thy first going forth led thee unto our poor hovels and manifested thy power. The desert, suddenly embalmed with heavenly fragrance, hails the passage, not of the figurative Ark, but of the 'litter of the true Solomon,' in these days of the sublime nuptials which he has vouchsafed to contract. What wonder, then, if at rapid pace thou dost speed across the mountains, since thou art bearing the Bridegroom who, as a giant, strideth from peak to peak?
Far different art thou, O Mary, from her who is portrayed in the sacred Canticle as hesitating, in spite of the heavenly call, to betake herself to active work, foolishly captivated by the sweets of mystic repose in such a way as to dream of finding it elsewhere than in the absolute good pleasure of the Beloved! Thou art not one, at the voice of the Spouse, to make difficulties about clothing thyself again with the garment of toil, of exposing thy feet, were it never so much, to be soiled with the dusty roads of earth. Scarcely has he given himself to thee immeasurably as none else can know than, ever on thy guard against the mistake of remaining all absorbed in selfish enjoyment of his love, thou thyself dost invite him to begin at once the great work which brought him down from heaven to earth: 'Come, my Beloved, let us go forth into the fields, let us rise up early to see if the vineyard flourish, to hasten the budding of the fruits of salvation in souls; there it is, that I wish to be all thine.' And, leaning upon him, no less than he upon thee, without thereby losing aught of heavenly delights, thou dost traverse our desert; and the Holy Trinity perceiveth between Mother and Son sympathies, harmonious agreements, unknown until then even to thee; and the friends of the Bridegroom, hearing thy sweet voice, on their side also comprehend his love and partake in thy joy. With him, with thee, O Mary, age after age shall behold souls innumerable who, swift-footed even as the roe and the young hart, will flee away from the valleys and gain the mountain heights where, in the warm sunshine, heaven’s aromatic spices are ever fragrant.
Bless, O Mary, those whom the better part so sweetly attracts. Protect that Order whose glory is to honour in a special manner thy Visitation. Faithful to the spirit of their illustrious founders they still continue to justify their sweet title by perfuming the Church on earth with the fragrance of that humility, gentleness and hidden prayer which made this day's mystery so dear to the angels eighteen hundred years ago. Finally, O Lady, forget not the crowded ranks of those whom grace presses, more numerous than ever nowadays, to tread in thy footsteps, mercifully seeking out every object of misery; teach them the way in which alone it is possible to devote themselves to their neighbour without in any way quitting God; for the greater glory of God and the happiness of man multiply such faithful copies of thee. May all of us, having followed in the degree measured out to us by him who divides his gifts to each one as he wills, meet together in our home yonder, to sing in one voice together with thee, an eternal Magnificat!
 Gen. ix 12-17.
 Ecclus. xliii 12, 13.
 Ps. cxxxi 8.
 2 Kings vi.
 1 Kings v.
 Ps. cxxxi 8, 9, 14-18.
 1 Kings iv 5-8.
 Gen. iii 15.
 Josue iii, iv.
 Ibid. vi.
 Judg. v 12.
 Ibid, 7.
 Ibid. 3.
 Ps. xxxiii 4.
 1 Kings iii.
 Judith xiii 18.
 Ibid. 25, 31; xv 11.
 Exod. xv 2, 3, 11
 1 Kings ii 2.
 Esth. ix 28.
 Judith ix 11.
 1 Kings ii 4, 5.
 Esth. x 12.
 Ibid. xiii 15; xiv 5
 Exod. xv 20, 21.
 See above, Feast of the Precious Blood, p. 370.
 Sainte Cecile et la Société romaine aux deux premiers siecles.
 In Ev. Hom. xxxii 7-9.
 Salve, sancta parens, enixa puerpera Regem,
Qui cœlum terramque tenet persæcula, cujus
Numen, et æterno complectens omnia gyro
Imperium sine fine manet; quæ ventre beato
Gaudia matris habens cum virgmitatis honore,
Nec primam similem visa es, nec habere sequentem:
Sola sine exemplo placuisti femina Christo!
Hail, holy Mother, who didst bring forth the King, who for ever ruleth heaven and earth, whose Godhead abideth without end, as doth his empire, embracing all things in eternal circuit. Hail thou, possessing in thy blessed womb, at once, both the joys of maternity and the honour of virginity, to whom was never seen the like before, nor shall there ever be! Alone, O Woman, thou without example wast pleasing unto Christ!
[Sedulius, Carmen Paschale, Lib. II, v 63-69.]
 1 Cor. ii 14.
 St Matt. xi 25.
 Ibid. 15; xiii 9.
 Ibid. xviii 3.
 Ibid. xiii 11.
 Ibid. xi 19.
 1 Cor. ii 9.
 Virgo Dei Genitrix, quem totus non capit orbis:
In tua se clausit viscera factus homo. Vera fides Geniti purgavit crimina mundi:
Et tibi virginitas inviolata manet.
O Virgin Mother of God, he whom the whole world is unable to contain, being made Man, enclosed himself in thy womb.
The true faith of Christ thy Son hath cleansed away the world’s guilt. And to thee virginity remains inviolate.
Te matrem pietatis, opem te clamitet orbis:
Subvenias famulis, O benedicta, tuis.
He proclaims thee Mother of tenderness and the succour of the world; come, then, to the aid of thy servants, O thou blessed one.
Gloria magna Patri, compar tibi gloria, Nate:
Spiritui Sancto gloria magna Deo. Amen.
Great glory be to the Father, and equal glory to thee, O Son; to the Holy Spirit, God, great glory also be. Amen.
[Hymnus Completorii in festis B. Mariœ. Antiphonar. Senoni. 552.]
 2 Cor. v 14.
 St Luke i 39.
 Ps. xxx 21.
 Heb. iv 12.
 1 Cor. vi 17.
 Rom. viii 21; 2 Cor. iii 17.
 Hymn. O Christi mater fulgida. Dan. iv 276.
 Hymn. O Christi mater cœlica. Dan. iv 236.
 Cant. vi 9.
 3 Kings xviii 44; Isa. xix 1.
 Ecclus. xliii 21-24.
 Cant. vii 1.
 Ibid. i 3.
 Ibid. 7.
 Ibid. in 6-11.
 Ps. xviii 6, 7.
 Cant. v 2-6.
 Ibid. vii 10-13.
 Ibid. viii 5.
 Ibid. 13.
 Ibid. 14.
 Cor. xii 11.