The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvily’s Commentary on Luke 1:39-45

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 18, 2011

Luk 1:39  And Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah;

And Mary rising up in those days, went with haste &c. “Rising up,” means, preparing herself with great earnestness. “In those days” It is commonly thought she did not proceed on her journey immediately after the departure of the Angel, and the Incarnation of the Son of God, but that she devoted a few days to fervent prayer and meditation, and humble thanksgiving for the wonderful things God was pleased to do for and through her. This is conveyed in the words, ” in those days.”  “Went with haste.” She did not loiter on the way, or indulge in idle conversations. The words express the burning love and fervent charity which animated her, in the performance of the duty she proposed to herself, “nescit tarda molimina gratia spiritus sancti” (The grace of the Holy Ghost knows no such thing as tardy exertions or preparation, St Ambrose). “Into the hill country, into a city of Juda.” This is generally supposed to be, not Jerusalem, which, though built on a hill, was not in the hilly district, and was in the Tribe of Benjamin; but Hebron, a sacerdotal city assigned to the sons of Aaron (Joshua 21:11), distant from Nazareth, where the Virgin abode, about 80 miles, or four days’ journey. For, Jerusalem was distant from Nazareth three days’ journey. Others, with Patrizzi (Lib. iii., Dissert, x. c. 1), say reference is made to Juta, a sacerdotal city in the mountains (Joshua 15:55), the difference in the reading, as regards both Juda and Juta, being very trifling. Juta being an obscure place in the time of St. Luke, the locality of it is mentioned, “the hill country.” St. Luke invariably puts the proper name of any city he speaks of in apposition to the common noun; thus we have “the city of Nazareth,” i.e. called Nazareth; “the city of Joppe,” i.e. the city called Joppe (Acts 11:5); the city of Thalassa” (Acts 27:8).

This visit of the Blessed Virgin is generally supposed to have for object to congratulate her kinswoman, Elizabeth, on the great blessing conferred on both, and to discharge the pious office of attending on her who was so many years her senior in point of years. It is also supposed, she was impelled to this by the Spirit of God, in order that John might be filled with the Holy Ghost, as the Angel promised (v. 15), by the presence of his Lord, and that Elizabeth and John might both testify to the Incarnation of the Son of God. What an example of humility, as well as of charity is set before us here by the Blessed Virgi ! The mother of the Creator, the Queen of Angels and of men, visits her inferior and performs the offices of Charity towards her! It was not any doubts she entertained regarding the promise of the Angel, that prompted her to go and see if things happened in regard to Elizabeth, as the Angel declared; nor was it the mere desire to visit a kinswoman, as Theophylact and others seem to maintain; nor was it feelings of curiosity either. No. “She went into the hill country,” says St. Ambrose, hic—”not as incredulous in regard to the oracle; nor as uncertain regarding the declaration made to her; nor as doubtful in regard to the fact adduced in confirmation of it; but, rejoicing in the accomplishment of her desire, religiously intent on discharging a duty imposed by kindred, and hastening on her way under the impulse of joy.” It is conjectured by some, that she was accompanied on her journey by her chaste spouse, Joseph, or at least by some female companion. As the Pasch was close at hand, Joseph likely went up with her as far as Jerusalem, which was on the way from Nazareth to Hebron. It may be, he remained there, and thus did not witness the salutation of Elizabeth, and thereby learn the pregnancy of the Virgin, which cost him afterwards so much mental anguish and uncertainty; 0r, if he went the whole way to Hebron, God arranged, for His own wise ends, that something prevented him from witnessing the meeting of these singularly holy women.

Luk 1:40  And she entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth.

The house of Zachary, which was in the city of Juda, referred to, whether Hebron or Juta, or whatever city it was.

“And saluted Elizabeth” The Virgin, as younger in point of years, showed her respect for Elizabeth, her senior, by saluting her first.  “The more chaste a virgin is, the more humble should she be, and ready to give way to her elders (Theophylact). Zachary, being deaf and dumb, was not a subject for salutation. Hence, she saluted Elizabeth, or, Zachary might have been absent.

Luk 1:41  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 it came to pass. The Evangelist uses theee words to convey that he
was about to relate something unusual and extraordinary.

“That when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary” &c. The effect caused by the Virgin’s salutation was twofold—the infant in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth herself were filled with the Holy Ghost. ” She first heard the voice of the Virgin; but, the infant was the first to feel the grace; she heard in a natural way, he leaped with joy on account of the mystery; she perceived the arrival of Mary, he became sensible of the presence of the Lord ” (St. Ambrose). He was the more worthy, as being destined to be the precursor of the Son of God; and it was to him, as such, the voice of the Virgin was, by divine impulse, first and chiefly addressed. Now, was verified the promise of the Angel that “from his mother’s womb, he would be filled with the Holy Ghost” (v. 15), and through him his mother also was filled with the same Spirit. It is clear it is to the same Spirit, viz., Holy Ghost, reference is made in both places. Elizabeth herself attributes this, not to any natural cause, arising from advanced pregnancy; but, to the salutation of the Virgin, and this the Evangelist wishes to convey here. “When Elizabeth heard the salutation,” the effects described followed.

“The infant leaped” The Greek for “leap,” (σκιρτάω = skirtaō pronounced: skeer-tah’-o), means, to “bound,” as young animals do. But it is afterwards said, he did so “for joy.” (v. 44). Hence it is commonly held by the Fathers, that this was the effect of miraculous interposition, and not of natural excitement, since it is attributed solely to the salutation and voice of the Virgin- and also, that John was gifted with reason, at least in this passing away, although St. Augustine is of a contrary opinion, and says the effect was produced, “dicinitus in infante, non humanitus ab infante.” However, the former opinion is the more common, as “joy” supposes knowledge. Whether he continued to enjoy the use of reason during the remaining three months in his mother’s womb, and during his infancy, must be a mere conjectural matter, regarding which there is a great diversity of opinion. It is commonly held that the Baptist was, on this occasion, cleansed from original sin. The Evangelist carefully notes that the joyous greeting of the infant was prior to the effect it caused in Elizabeth, filling her with the Holy Ghost, which she would seem to have received out of the abundance divinely bestowed on her infant, the order of grace thus reversing the order of nature, in which it is the mother that imparts the vital spirit to the infant shut up in her womb; here, on the contrary, it was from the infant the spirit of grace was communicated to the mother.

“And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.” The gifts of the Holy Ghost were now bestowed on her in greater abundance—”filled,” &c., )—and had the effect of bestowing on her a clear knowledge of the cause of the infant’s rejoicing and of the Mystery of the Incarnation. They conferred on her also supernatural knowledge (as Ven. Bede remarks, as well as St. Gregory, Hom. 1. in Ezechiel) in regard to the past, present and future—the past, “blessed art thou that hast believed”—evidently showing, she knew the words addressed to Mary by the Angel—the present, “the mother of my Lord,”’ &c. (v. 43), thus showing, she knew the Son of God was borne in Mary’s womb. She also knew the meaning of the exultation of the infant in her own womb; and the future, “those things shall be accomplished,” &c. (v. 45), predicting as certain the accomplishment in due time of the Angel’s promises.

Luk 1:42  And she cried out with a loud voice and said: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

And she cried out with a loud voice, &c, from the evident impulse and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, with whom she was filled; and from admiration of the wonderful mysteries revealed to her, owing to which she could not contain herself, even in the presence of the Son of God and His Blessed Mother, crying out with a loud voice, in the very words in which the Angel had before addressed the Blessed Virgin, from the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, “who,” as St. Ambrose observes, “never forgets His own words “ (Lib. 2, in Lucam).

“Blessed art thou amongst women. “Blessed” by God, in His wonderful gifts. It does not refer to her future praises by men. ” Amongst,” &c.—before, or above, all other women, as you are virgin and mother at the same time—mother, not of a mere man, but mother of God. The pregnancy of the Virgin, at this early stage, could be known to Elizabeth only from the revelation of the Holy Ghost.

“And blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”   “And” has the force of the causal particle, because her blessedness arose from the great privilege of Divine maternity. ” The fruit of thy womb,” shows our Blessed Lord was really conceived and begotten of her, as mother. These words allude to the promise made to David regarding Him—” De fructu ventris tui ponam super sedem tuam” (Psalm 132:11); and she uses this form of expression rather than, Blessed is the Son you have conceived; because this Son was still in her womb. Mary is said to be blessed beyond all other women, but her Son is said to be “blessed” absolutely, without any comparison with others, as God, essentially so; as man, owing to the wonderful mystery of his Incarnation, wherein the human nature of our Lord was hypostatically united to the Person of the Divine Word. In these words is shown, that all the blessings conferred on the Virgin were traceable to her having been made Mother of God. From Him, all her blessedness flows. She was blessed and filled with grace in a limited degree, but He, superabundantly—”Of  His fulness we have all received” (John 1:6). “By a double miracle, the mothers prophesy by the spirit of their infants” (St. Ambrose).

Luk 1:43  And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

And whence is this to me? &c. How could such wonderful felicity fall to the lot of one so unworthy of it? It is solely the effect of the Divine goodness and condescension. These words by no means argue ignorance on the part of Elizabeth, but only her great humility, and her admiration of the wonderful mystery wrought in Mary, and a deep sense of her unworthiness to be visited by one, who was exalted to the sublimest dignity of Mother of God.

“That the mother of my Lord” &c. That one so exalted “should come to me,” who am so unworthy of such a privilege.  “Of my Lord,” the “Word Incarnate now in her sacred womb. He had been, therefore, by this time united to the human nature. Hence, the Blessed Virgin has been properly called, Theoticos (Theotokos). These words of Elizabeth to Mary are very similar to those addressed by the son of Elizabeth to the Son of Mary (Matthew iii. 14). By calling this infant, still shut in his mother’s womb, her “Lord,” Elizabeth plainly conveyed, that she regarded Him as the Eternal Son of God, as also did David, when he said, “The Lord said to my Lord ” which is applied by our Redeemer Himself to the Messiah (Matthew 22:44).

Luk 1:44  For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

From the exultation of the infant in her womb, the instant the voice of Mary reached her ears, even before she could grasp the meaning of her words, Elizabeth, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Ghost for this end, at once concludes, that the Virgin bore in her womb the Eternal Son of God, whose precursor saluted Him by anticipation from her own womb. While interiorly enlightening the mind of Elizabeth with His grace, which alone could give her the certain knowledge of the great event referred to, the Holy Ghost also wished to give an external corroborative sign, in the leaping of the infant in her womb, which, as Elizabeth conveys, resulted from the salutation of Mary, and was a certain sign of the presence of the Son of God.

Luk 1:45  And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.

Blessed art thou that believest. Hence, unlike Zachary, who was punished for his hesitation and unbelief, with which the faith of Mary is here contrasted, Mary firmly believed all the Angel told her from the beginning. Elizabeth here attributes the blessings to be conferred on Mary to her faith, as the beginning and root of justification; but not to her faith only.

“Because those things shall be accomplished” &c. Some of the things promised her by the Angel were already accomplished. “Thou shalt conceive” &c. This portion was accomplished, as she had now conceived. ” He shall be great” &c. This and all the other privileges resulting from it shall be conferred in due time.

“Spoken to thee by the Lord,” viz., by the Angel on the part of the Lord, as already referred to in the salutation (vv. 31-33). It is held by some that the words, “because these things shall be accomplished,” &c, were the object of Mary’s faith, thus immediately connecting them with “believed”—she believed that they would be accomplished. Others, more probably, say that they are the cause of her blessedness. She was blessed on account of the things which she believed would surely happen. The analogy of ὅτι (hoti, pronounced: hot’-ee) favours this opinion (See Matthew 5:3-10; Luke 6:20-21). Note: ὅτι is translated in our text as “because”: because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.

2 Responses to “Father MacEvily’s Commentary on Luke 1:39-45”

  1. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45). […]

  2. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45). […]

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