Luke’s infancy narratives have shaped the Catholic imagination and inspired Christian art through the centuries, providing a series of verbal icons as we contemplate again the mystery of the Word made flesh. The visit of Mary to Elizabeth from today’s Gospel is often depicted in art, with these two women in a wordless embrace, sharing, like all mothers-to-be, the mystery of new life within themselves, and with a sense of mutual awe over what God has done.
The Gospel is a treasure-trove of Lukan themes. Carrying Jesus within herself, Mary sets out on a journey from Nazareth to the hill country of Judaea, anticipating that final journey that Jesus will make from Nazareth to his death in Jerusalem. Immediately Elizabeth greets Mary; the child leaps for joy in her womb, reflecting a biblical motif that the action of a child in the womb anticipates future destiny (Gen. 25:22-23). John will be the first to recognize the presence of Jesus as he begins his public ministry. Elizabeth then, like the prophets of old and like Mary, is filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims God’s word, Blessed are you among women, echoing Gabriel’s greeting to Mary. Then she pronounces a second blessing on Mary, Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. This blessing anticipates Lk. 11:28, where a woman cries out, Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed, only to have Jesus respond, Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. Elizabeth’s praise describes Mary as the model believer in Luke. She believes in the word of God that has been spoken to her, and acts on that word in her journey to Elizabeth. Mary is truly the Mother of the Church, a pilgrim church called to believe God’s word and to follow it in its own journeys.