The Joy of Elizabeth and Mary

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We are just a few days from the celebration of the birth of Jesus, which fulfilled the promise made by God from the beginning to bring forth from the offspring of Adam a savior who would restore mankind to God’s family, and more specifically the promise made to Abraham that from him would come forth this savior for all mankind.

We see this promise in Genesis, after the Fall. In His great mercy, God curses the serpent, Satan, whose great lie brought death and despair to the human race, and then promises a redeemer who will conquer evil and sin: “I will make you enemies of each other, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring, He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel.’ (Gen 3:14)

Following that original disaster, then, that darkest moment of human history, when our first parents chose sin above God, it is revealed that God still took pity on his fallen children. He promised a redeemer who would crush the Head of the Evil One and enable us all to return to communion with Him and the destiny God intended for us from the beginning.

Moreover, it’s not by chance that the promise includes the woman who fully shares the enmity of her offspring against the Evil One. She will also have her triumph over the Evil One who deceived her. She would still be the mother of all the living. But thanks to God’s merciful promise, there is renewed hope that through her offspring, woman would also be involved in the re-generation of a race doomed to suffering and death.

So the Lord promises that “woman,” that is, a representative of all women, would have her role in the restoration of the race, not this woman who sinned, but one of her descendants, the new Eve, who would be sinless and who would in fact triumph over Satan, sin, and death, through the Savior to whom she would give birth.

Indeed, for countless centuries, there has been deadly enmity between the descendants of that first man and woman and the offspring of Satan, both his angelic and human followers. Then the time finally came for the ancient promise to be fulfilled through a new woman and through her blessed offspring, He who was and is the hope of all ages.

The meeting of Elizabeth and Mary is the blessed moment chosen by God to proclaim that the ancient promise is being fulfilled, that the long wait for the triumph over Satan, sin, and death was at hand: The mother of His herald, Elizabeth speaks for the child in her womb,Blessed is the fruit of your womb. . .who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me.”

"Visitación de María a Isabel" by Angiolo D'Andrea, c. 1940
“Visitación de María a Isabel” by Angiolo D’Andrea, c. 1940

For generations, women had carried the fruit of their wombs with the knowledge that the child to whom they would give birth and nourish, would sadly one day die. For all the children they bore would, like all flesh, be subject to the law of suffering and death. But there was also the ancient promise that sustained the women of faith, the promise that death was not the last word.

Indeed, among the children of Abraham, this promise was the very substance of their hope, that one day a child would be born who would restore for Israel and all mankind the destiny for which man was created in the beginning: endless life not death, happiness not suffering. They even came to know by a new revelation that this savior would come from the tribe of Juda, a descendant of David: “From you [Bethlehem-Ephrathah] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler of Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient times.”

But they also learned that this promise would be fulfilled only with the cooperation of a mother, a new Eve, who would bring into the world the medicine of immortality. The Book of Kings mentions the special role of the Queen-Mother of the kings descended from David, indicating a linkage between the Davidic dynasty (the Messianic dynasty) and the promise made in Genesis concerning the woman and her offspring who would be the conqueror of Satan. This will Woman share in the victory of her son over death.

How beautiful, then, the meeting of these two holy women, both with child: one carrying the greatest man born of flesh, the other carrying the very Life of the World – the one whose “origin is of old,” from “ancient times.” How fitting, then, that the Messiah’s arrival was first celebrated by two women, one mother of the new Elijah, the other the Mother of God. Salvation will not come through a battle of armies led, but through the blessed generosity of bearing life, the role of the woman, and the generosity of surrendering that same life for God’s purposes.

Since then, every woman who shares the faith of Elizabeth and Mary can give birth in heavenly joy, a joy based that now every child has a well founded hope of eternal life, thanks to the fruit of Mary’s womb.

Since that day, we can all have the same joyful experience of the Lord’s coming, recalling how He sanctified us in the womb of Holy Mother Church, just as John “leaped for joy” in Elizabeth’s womb, simply by the presence of God in Mary’s womb.

Every time we approach the altar, our faith, like Mary’s or Elizabeth’s, should fill us with that unique joy and humility, “But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Then truly will the grace of her blessed offspring stir in our souls and more deeply transform us into his brothers and sisters, creatures no longer destined for death, but for eternal life and a joy that He assures us cannot be taken away.

 

Fr. Mark A. Pilon

Fr. Mark A. Pilon

Fr. Mark A. Pilon, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA, received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He is a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at littlemoretracts.wordpress.com.

  • Rick

    Beautifully written. To add a few things: Because Jesus is the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14), Mary is in essence the Ark of the new covenant. There are parallels between the old testament and the new to corroborate this statement.
    1. David’s response to seeing the Ark (2 Kings 6:9) and Elizabeth’s response to seeing Mary (Luke 1:43) are almost identical.
    2. King David’s reaction before the Ark (2 Kings 6:12-14) and John the Baptist’s reaction from within Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:41) before Mary are also identical.
    3. Both the Ark and Mary remain in there respective house for 3 months (2 Kings 6:11 & Luke 1:56).
    4. In both instances, the Holy Spirit came and overshadowed them.
    5. The original Ark contained the Ten Commandments (word), the staff of Aaron (power), and manna (bread). Jesus, in Mary’s womb is all of those.
    6. Jeremiah prophesied this (Jer. 3:15-19) when he claimed that the original Ark would be lost because a new messiah was coming to replace it.

    Because of this, we also know that Mary was assumed into heaven. Psalm 131.8 states, “Arise O Lord into thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy majesty”

    • Vince Whirlwind

      Thank you for this enlightening post. I will certainly take notes to look these up, then share with my Protestant friends and RCIA candidates and catechumens. It’s always raised their eyebrows when I call our Blessed Mother The Ark of The New Covenant.

      Your last passage from Psalm 131, on Mary’s Assumption. What is your opinion on her “death”? Did she or didnt she? I’ve looked at both sides of this discussion, but lean toward her being alive while bodily assumed, that she did not undergo earthly death. My deacon has stated she “died”, (went to sleep; The Dormition).

      To me, being “full of grace”, and dying are contradictory.

      • Rick

        FYI, I use a Latin Vulgate bible and I think the Psalm numbering might be skewed a bit, but it is there.

        I learned of this biblical revelation (Psalm 131) from the late Fulton Sheen. I really don’t have an opinion about the death of Mary. Although it is an interesting discussion, not all truth is revealed to us, only the truths that we need. We do know that she is alive in heaven and with her son now.

      • Ernest Miller

        I was taught that Jesus conquered death by way of the Resurrection. Mary’s apparitions clearly indicate she is transcendent. Had she died a human death it would be necessary for her to be resurrected to appear again on earth.

        And, had Mary died a human death that would indicate Satan overcame her. So, Mary did not die and simply ascended into heaven.

      • Dave Fladlien

        I’ve had different views on this at different times in my life, but I think I’ve pretty much settled on the idea that Our Lady was simply “taken up”, probably with her close friends who were available there to see it (which readily explains how it is known that she was assumed). I don’t accept the dormition idea, and I certainly don’t think she died; I think she was just lifted up into heaven, in some way or other which was sufficiently clear for those present to grasp what was happening.

        I should say, however, that I definitely don’t hold this view as if it were revelation. It is my own opinion on a matter in which, as I have long understood it, the Church takes no official position (on how she was assumed or whether she died).

  • Dominic

    While praying the Rosary one morning, I meditated on the question to Mary, “When, Mary, did you realize that you were born for a very special purpose.” As I prayed, a thought came into my mind, “When will YOU realize that you were born for a special purpose.”

    “Joy and humility,” indeed. And gratitude. And resolve.

  • Stanley Anderson

    Fr. Pilon writes, “Since then, every woman who shares the faith of Elizabeth and Mary can give birth in heavenly joy…”

    When my wife was pregnant with our first child (over two decades ago), she went into premature labor at five months and the baby only lived about four hours. She stayed in the hospital that night and the next morning I came to visit her, wondering how I would possibly be able to offer any sort of comfort for her great grief that I anticipated finding, especially when my own grief seemed overwhelming.

    As I entered the room, there she was sitting up in the bed with, how can I describe it but simply as a radiant glow of overwhelming joy on her face. Ironically, I, who had wondered how I would comfort her, was comforted by that peaceful joy filling the room. She wasn’t “trying” to be bravely joyful in the face of sorrow, but just “exuded” it without effort.

    I suppose it might be scientifically explained as an emotional product by the release of whatever hormones and such into her body during the birth process, but it was a palpable joy nonetheless. A grace from God in any case, presumably through Mary, I expect.

    To be sure, there were further complications and tragedies and periods of intense grief and sadness and depression in the months following for both of us, but I will always remember that heavenly joy descending upon her in the act of giving birth despite the difficult conditions surrounding it.

    • Alicia

      Yes, something special happens when becoming a mother. It’s beautiful. I can’t explain it. It’s a deep, wonderful emotion, very private. We feel it deep inside every time we stop to look at our children: a blessing !
      God bless you and your wife.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Amen. And as Prof. Esolen wrote: “May we all be conformed to the beauty of Christ.”

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Thanks for your beautiful reflections. They added to my sermons this morning.

  • mrpkguy

    May I add this to the discussion of whether the Blessed Mary “died”?
    Recent scientific studies have led to the discovery that a mother retains the cells of all the children she has carried whether to full birth or miscarriage – throughout her life, Thus with this discovery the Blessed Mother carried Jesus’ cells in her body so how could Our Creator allow the cells of Jesus in her also die if she were to die? It makes sense therefore that she was “assumed” into heaven without dying. This new information has “sealed” it for me in believing what the Church has taught us all along.