By: Abbot Gueranger, O.S.B.
Our Lady's visit to her cousin Elizabeth already engaged our attention whilst we ewre 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 Ember-Friday 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 takne the initiative, when Urban VI, in 1389, instituted to-days' solemnity. The Pope counselled at fast on thevigil of the feast, and ordered that it should be followed by an octave; he granted for its scelebration the same indulgences as Irban 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, a Irban 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 prefering the deceptive staff of the hireling. Thicker yet waws 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 on 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 wa ssteadfast 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 assum 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 enemy now put to confusion, little ones shall rejoice, all shall be filled with benediction, and Pontiffs shall be perfected. (Ps. cxxxi 8,9, 14-18). 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 should, 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! (I Kings iv 5-8) 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 (Gen. iii 15), as she stamps him down, makes his haughty head to wince for the first time: andJohn, 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 (Josue iii, iv), and has levelled fortresses to the dust at its approach (Ibid. vi.).
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 (Exod. xv 20, 21). So sings she on this day of triumph, victorious chants which, in the ages of expectation, preluded this divine canticle of hers. But the past victories of the elect people where but figures of that which is gained by our glorious Queen on this day in 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 special motive which led the Church to institute this feast in the fourteenth century. again, in our own day, as Mary shown that this date is indeed for her 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. (See the hard copy of the book for Vespers and explanation of the Mass for this day.)