4th Sunday of Advent: The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

Opening Prayer

Father in heaven,

You inspired in Mary the desire to be a woman of two worlds, a sister to her human family through Elizabeth, and a mother to the whole world through her son Jesus Christ. Help us to be inspired like Mary to see our lives in the way that Mary saw hers, that our lives can both be passionately devoted to our family and also a solemn gift for the whole world.


Scripture Reading

Luke 1:39-56

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb.

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
Holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
But lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
But sent the rich away empty.
He had helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of his mercy,
According to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

And Mary remained wither he about three months and then returned to her home.

Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni, The Visitation, from The life of John the Baptist
Oratorio of St John the Baptist, Urbino, Italy 
Source: Photographed at the Oratorio by Richard Stracke
Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni, The Visitation, from The life of John the Baptist 1416 Source: Photographed at the Oratorio by Richard Stracke

Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni, The Visitation, from The life of John the Baptist
Oratorio of St John the Baptist, Urbino, Italy
Source: Photographed at the Oratorio by Richard Stracke

On the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

The Visitation depicts the Virgin Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. It is the subject of the second decade of the Rosary prayer, so it has been especially familiar to Catholics since the sixteenth century. Images typically show the two women greeting each other upon Mary’s arrival. Mary will always be identifiable by her blue mantle. More often than not both women are veiled. The greeting is usually pictured as an embrace. Sometimes Elizabeth touches Mary’s belly or breast.

The setting varies but is almost never inside Elizabeth’s house. It may be at the entrance and the house is often made to look somewhat like a church or temple. In some artworks, the flying buttresses and ribbed vaulting that characterize Gothic churches of the day were sometimes added to an otherwise normal home.

Alternatively, to represent “a Judean town in the hill country,” the greeting may be set outside the city gates. This gave Renaissance artists a chance to indulge in a bit of landscape painting.

Sometimes Mary and Elizabeth are the only persons in the composition; or, in the city-gates settings, there may be just one distant figure entering or leaving at the gate.

But many other artists on this theme add other characters. Quite a few in the late Middle Ages portray Mary arriving in the company of other young women. And sometimes we see Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah.

In the Gospel of Luke, the angel tells Mary that Elizabeth is six months pregnant, and Mary stays with her for three months. Adding in the time for travel to Judah, we might calculate that Mary was there for the birth of John the Baptist.

This image incorporates many of the conventions mentioned previously. With both an outdoor greeting with mountains in the background, and the meeting of Zechariah at the entrance contained within the one artwork.

On the left Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, greets Mary, pregnant with Jesus. On the right, Zechariah welcomes Mary to his and Elizabeth’s home. As usual in Visitation images, the artists provide Mary with some accompanying women.

An Oblate’s Pondering
By Fr Harry Dyer, OMI

The icon The Visitation is a very colorful and very exuberant image but also it gives me a great sense of community, of people gathering together, of sharing some good news. And that’s what life is all about, sharing good news with each other. People are embracing one another, and others are listening on and wondering perhaps what is happening.

It made me think about Mary as a young girl, saying Yes to God’s call in her life. That’s the challenge for all of us. Saying Yes means we go into the unknown, we are not sure what lies ahead for us.

Mary grew in her awareness of God’s love for her. She answered with an act of faith, with courage, and persistence. It was good news that she was going to be the mother of Jesus, bringing Christ into the world. What a great gift that was for her, and I’m sure there was a great sense of joy. But still things were hidden from her view at that time: the suffering of a mother seeing her son die, and also her fleeing from her country. But she began with an act of caring—to go out to her cousin Elizabeth to care for her in her time of need.

As followers of Jesus, we too are called to follow into the unknown, into the unknown of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus. We are not sure what lies ahead, but to continue to act in faith and act with trust and generosity towards one another. Mary is a good example of that journey in that she went through that rough and tumble of life like we all do. She had great perseverance and great faith. So, let’s pray that we can share that same faith, that same trust, even in the rough and tumble of our own lives but to still have the focus that Jesus is the most important thing for us, and to bring Christ to our world.

Reflection Questions

Feel free to share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

  1. Do you have an image of The Visitation that speaks to you? Share your favorite aspect of this image or your own image.
  2. Ponder the words that Elizabeth speaks to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Try to quantify how many times you have prayed these words in your lifetime. Next consider every Christian who has ever prayed, said, or read these words over the past 2,000 years. Why are these words so significant? What do they mean to you personally?
  3. Mary points the way to Jesus with the words of her Magnificat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” In what ways does or could Mary continue to bring you closer to Jesus?
  4. It is often mentioned that Elizabeth was a trusted mentor to Mary. If the very mother of God needed a mentor, it certainly would seem that we could all benefit from guidance from others. Mary went to Elizabeth during one of the biggest moments in her life. Who is “my Elizabeth”? And who is “the Mary” I am mentoring?

Reflection Activities for the Week Ahead

This Advent, as we prepare for the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ, consider beginning a renewed devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother. As we prepare for Christmas, let’s approach both Christmas day and the days leading up to it (and beyond!) with receptive and generous hearts like unto Mary. Spend some time reflecting on how our actions differ to the usual if we keep Mary’s caring ways in mind over the coming days?

Create your own artwork depicting the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth.

The Visitation is the theme for the second decade of the Rosary. Pray a decade of the Joyful Mysteries along with this video.

Closing Prayer

Holy Father,

We come to you because Jesus asked us to pray that you send workers into your harvest. Therefore, send us generous men and women, passionate for Jesus, willing to make their whole life a total oblation to You, to become close to the poorest and most abandoned, and to proclaim the Gospel.

Send us, Lord, people willing to share the charism of our founder, St Eugene de Mazenod, conscious of the call of God to be a friend and co-missionary of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and serve the poor and most abandoned.

Under the inspiration and protection of Mary Immaculate, help us as we encounter our brothers and sisters and offer them Jesus, the source of our hope, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


If you are enjoying these Advent reflections, I invite you to sign up for our Christmas Novena emails I will send daily from December 16-25. Our Catholic faith is rich and offers liturgy unique to these days. The Hispanic community knows these days as las Posadas.

Sign up for our English version featuring reflections from my brother Oblate, Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI , who is a professor and former president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio.

Or, sign up for our Spanish version featuring reflections from the Oblate School of Theology’s Instituto para Formación Pastoral.

P.S. During this reflective season of Advent we think about Our Savior who came to help the poor and most abandoned. Would you please help the Missionary Oblates care for them?