The Song of the Woman: the Visitation
by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

[Slightly abbreviated]

One of the most beautiful moments in history was that when pregnancy met pregnancy --— when child bearers became the first heralds of the King of Kings. All pagan religions begin with the teachings of adults, but Christianity begins with the birth of a Child. From that day to this, Christians have ever been the defenders of the family and the love of generation. If we ever sat down to write out what we would expect the Infinite God to do, certainly the last thing we would expect would be to see Him imprisoned in a carnal ciborium for nine months; and the next to last thing we would expect is that the "greatest man ever born of woman," while yet in his mother's womb, would salute the yet imprisoned God-Man. But this is precisely what took place in the Visitation.

At the Annunciation the Archangel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was about to become the mother of John the Baptist. Mary was then a young girl, but her cousin was "advanced in years," that is, quite beyond the normal age of conceiving. "See, moreover, how it fares with thy cousin Elizabeth; she is old, yet she too has conceived a son; she who was reproached with barrenness is now in her sixth month, to prove that nothing is impossible with God. And Mary said, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to thy word.' And with that the Angel left her" (Lk. 1:36-38).

The birth of Christ is without regard to man; the birth of John the Baptist is without regard to age! "Nothing is impossible with God." The Scripture continues the story:

"In the days that followed, Mary rose up and went with all haste to a city of Juda, in the hill country where Zachary dwelt; and entering in she gave Elizabeth greeting. No sooner had Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, than the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit; so that she cried out with a loud voice, "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord? Why, as soon as ever the voice of thy greeting sounded in my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed art thou for thy believing; the message that was brought to thee from the Lord shall have fulfillment" (Lk. 1:39-45).

Mary "went with all haste"; she is always in a hurry to do good. With deliberate speed she becomes the first nurse of Christian civilization. The woman hastens to meet a woman. They serve best their neighbor who bear the Christ within their hearts and souls. Bearing in herself the Secret of Salvation, Mary journeys five days from Nazareth to the city of Hebron, where, according to tradition, rested the ashes of the founders of the people of God: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The terraced fields of Juda
pregnant with seed
called out to her
as she passed,
praising the Child
she was yet to bear;
invoking His Blessing
on their expectancy. (1)

"She gave Elizabeth greeting"; springtime served the autumn. She, who is to bear Him Who will say: "I came not to be ministered unto but to minister," now ministers unto her cousin, who bears only His trumpet and His voice in the wilderness. Nothing so provokes the service of the needy as the consciousness of one's own unworthiness when visited by the grace of God. The handmaid of the Lord becomes the handmaid of Elizabeth.

On hearing the woman's greeting, the child whom Elizabeth bore within her "leaped in her womb." The Old Testament is here meeting the New Testament; the shadows dissolve with joy before the substance. All the longings and expectations of thousands of years as to Him Who would be the Savior are now fulfilled in this one ecstatic moment when John the Baptist greets Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Mary is present at three births: at the birth of John the Baptist, at the birth of her own Divine Son, and at the "birth" of John the Evangelist, at the foot of the Cross, as the Master saluted him: "Behold thy mother!" Mary, the Woman, presided at the three great moments of life: at a birth on the occasion of the Visitation, at a marriage at the Marriage Feast of Cana, and at a Death, or surrender of Life, at the Crucifixion of her Divine Son. [Bishop Sheen and St. Alphonsus interpret the second chapter of Luke differently in which it reads that Mary remained for about three months with her cousin then departed for her own house; then St. Luke records that Elizabeth bore her son. St. Alphonsus is taking it literally in time sequence and Fulton Sheen reads it not sequentially but poetically or stylistically. --- The Web Master.]

"The child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit." A Pentecost came before Pentecost. The physical body of Christ within Mary now fills John the Baptist with the Spirit of Christ; thirty-three years later the Mystical Body of Christ, His Church, will be filled with the Holy Spirit, as Mary, too, will be, in the midst of the Apostles abiding in prayer. John is sanctified by Jesus. So Jesus is not as John --— not man alone, but God as well.

The second part of the second most beautiful prayer in the world, the Hail Mary, is now about to be written; the first part was spoken by an Angel: "Hail (Mary) full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women" (Lk. 1:28).

Now Elizabeth adds the second part in a "loud voice"; "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Jesus)." Old age is here not jealous of youth or privilege, for Elizabeth makes the first public proclamation --— that Mary is the Mother of God: "How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord?" She learned it less from Mary's lips than from the Spirit of God nestling over her womb. Mary received the Spirit of God through an Angel; Elizabeth was the first to receive it through Mary.
Cousin-nurse at birth, Mother-nurse at death. There is nothing Mary has that is for herself alone --— not even her Son. Before He is born, her Son belongs to others. No sooner does she have the Divine Host within herself than she rises from the Communion rail of Nazareth to visit the aged and to make her young. Elizabeth would never live to see her son lose his head to the dancing stepdaughter of Herod, but Mary would live and die at once in seeing her Son taste death, that death might be no more. ... Elizabeth, describing how the God-Man hidden within Mary worked on her soul and the new life within her old body, exclaimed: "Why, as soon as ever the voice of thy greeting sounded in my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed art thou for thy believing; the message that was brought to thee from the Lord shall have fulfillment" (Lk. 1:44, 45). Eve had believed the serpent; Elizabeth now praises Mary for blotting out the ruin of Eve by believing in God.

But no sooner did an unborn child leap with joy in a prison house of flesh than a song leaped with joy to Mary's lips. To sing a song is to possess one's soul. Maria, the sister of Moses, sang after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. Deborah sang after the defeat of the Canaanites. Wherever liberty is, there the free sing. Elizabeth's husband sang the Benedictus to usher in the New Order, for Our Lord came "not to destroy the law but to fulfill it." Yet only as a Mirror, in whom Elizabeth sees reflected the unborn Emmanuel, does Mary glow with the song of those future days when He alone shall be the Light of the World. Mary smiles through tears of joy, and she makes rainbow of a song. At least until the Birth, the Woman shall have mirth. After those nine months He, Who is sheathed within her flesh, would say: "I come not to bring peace, but the sword" (Mt. 10:34).
The Magnificat is the hymn of a mother with a Child Who is at once the "Ancient of Days." Like a great artist, who has finished a painting in a few months, Mary could say: "In how short a time, and yet it is my life," so the song sprang from Mary's lips like a jet in a few seconds —-- and yet she was a lifetime in composing it.

She gathered up the soul melodies of her people --— a song of David, a song above all which Hannah sang centuries before at the door of the tabernacle of Shiloh, when she brought her infant son Samuel, "to lend him to the Lord as long as He liveth" (1 Sam. 1:28). But Mary makes their words and her own refer not to the past but to the future, when the Law of Fear will give way to the Law of Love, and when another life, another kingdom, will arise in a towering flight of sanctity and praise.

"My soul magnifies the Lord: My spirit has found joy in God, Who is my Savior." The faces of women had been veiled for centuries, and the faces of men were veiled, too, in the sense that men hid themselves from God. But now that the veil of sin is lifted, the Woman stands upright and looks at the face of God to praise Him. When the Divine enters into the human, then the soul thinks less of asking than of loving Him. The lover seeks no favors from the beloved; Mary has no petitions but only praise. As the soul becomes detached from things and is conscious of itself and of its destiny, it knows itself only in God. The egotist magnifies himself, but Mary magnifies the Lord. The carnal think first of body, and the mediocre think of God as an afterthought. In Mary nothing takes precedence over Him Who is God the Creator, the Lord of history, and the Savior of mankind.

When our friends praise us for our deeds, we thank them for their kindness. When Elizabeth extols Mary, Mary glorifies her God. Mary receives praise as a mirror receives light: she stores it not, nor even acknowledges it, but makes it pass from her to God to Whom is due all praise, all honor and thanksgiving. The shortened form of this song is: "Thank God." Her whole personality is to be at the service of her God. Too often do men praise God with our tongues, while our hearts are far from Him. "Words go up, but thoughts remain below." But it was the soul and spirit of Mary, and not her lips, that overflowed in words, because the secret of Love within had already burst its bonds.

Why magnify God, Who cannot become less by subtraction through our atheism or greater by the addition of our praise? It is true --— not in Himself does God change stature through our recognition, any more than, because a simpleton mocks the beauty of a Raphael, the painting loses its beauty. But, in us, God is capable of increase and decrease as we are lovers or sinners. As our ego inflates, the need of God seems to be less; as our ego deflates, the need of God appears in its true hunger.

The love of God is reflected in the soul of the just, as the light of the sun is magnified by a mirror. So Mary's Son is the Sun, for she is the moon. She is the nest —-- He the Fledgling Who will fly to a higher Tree and will then call her home. She calls Him her Lord or Savior, even though she is preserved free from the stain of Original Sin, for it is due entirely to the merits of the Passion and Death of her Divine Son. In herself she is nothing, and she has nothing. He is everything! Because He has looked graciously upon the lowliness of His handmaid —-- because He Who is Mighty, He whose name is Holy, has wrought these wonders for me.

The proud end in despair, and the last act of despair is suicide or the taking of one's life, which is no longer bearable. The humble are necessarily the joyful, for where there is no pride, there can be no self-centeredness, which makes joy impossible.

Mary's song has this double note; her spirit rejoices because God has looked down on her lowliness. A box that is filled with sand cannot be filled with gold; a soul that is bursting with its own ego can never be filled with God. There is no limit on God's part to His possession of a soul; it is the soul alone that can limit His welcome, as a window curtain limits the light. The more empty the soul is of self, the greater the room in it for God. The larger the emptiness of a nest, the bigger the bird that can be housed therein. There is an intrinsic relation between the humility of Mary and the Incarnation of the Son of God within. She whom the heavens could not contain now tabernacles the King of the Heavens Himself. The Most High looks on the lowliness of His handmaid.
Mary's self-emptying, alone, would not have been enough, had not He Who is her God, her Lord and Savior, "humbled Himself." Though the cup be empty, it cannot hold the ocean. People are like sponges. As each sponge can hold only so much water and then reaches a point of saturation, so every person can hold only so much of honor. After the saturation point is reached, instead of the man's wearing the purple, the purple wears the man. It is always after the honor is accepted that the recipient moans in false humility: "Lord, I am not worthy."

But here, after the honor is received, Mary, instead of standing on her privilege, becomes a servant-nurse of her aged cousin and, in the midst of that service, sings a song in which she calls herself the Lord's handmaid --— or better still the bondwoman of God, a slave who is simply His property and one who has no personal will except His own. Selflessness is shown as the true self. "There was no room in the inn" because the inn was filled. There was room in the stable because there were no egos there —-- only an ox and an ass.
God looked over the world for an empty heart —-- but not a lonely heart —-- a heart that was empty like a flute on which He might pipe a tune --— not lonely like an empty abyss, which is filled by death. And the emptiest heart He could find was the heart of a Lady. Since there was no self there, He filled it with His very Self.

"Behold, from this day forward, all generations will count me blessed." These are miraculous words. How can we explain them, except by the Divinity of her Son? How could this country girl, coming from the despised village of Nazareth and wrapped in anonymity by Judean mountains, foresee in future generations how painters like Michelangelo and Raphael, poets like Sedulius, Cynewulf, Jacopone da Todi, Chaucer, Thompson, and Wordsworth, theologians like Ephrem, Bonaventure, and Aquinas, the obscure of little villages, and the learned and the great would pour out their praise of her in an unending stream, as the world's first love, and say of their impoverished rhymes:

And men looked up at the woman made for the morning
When the stars were young,
For whom, more rude than a beggar's rhyme in the gutter,
These songs are sung.

Her Son will later give the law explaining her immortal remembrance: "He that humbleth himself, shall be exalted." Humility before God is compensated for by glory before men. Mary had taken the vow of virginity and, seemingly, thus prevented her beauty from passing on to other generations. And yet now —-- through the power of God —-- she sees herself as the mother of countless generations without ever ceasing to be a virgin. All generations who lost the favor of God by eating the forbidden fruit will now exalt her, because through her they enter once again into the possession of the Tree of Life. Within three months Mary has had her eight Beatitudes:
1. "Blessed art thou because full of grace," said the Archangel Gabriel.
2. "Blessed art thou for thou shalt conceive in thy womb the Son of the Most High, God."
3. "Blessed art thou, Virgin Mother, for 'the Holy Spirit will come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.'"
4. "Blessed art thou for doing God's will: 'Be it done unto me according to Thy Word.'"
5. "Blessed art thou for believing," said Elizabeth.
6. "Blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Jesus)," added Elizabeth.
7. "Blessed art thou among women."
8. "Blessed art thou, for the message that was brought to thee from the Lord shall have fulfillment."
Lowliness and exaltation are one in her: lowliness because, judging herself to be unworthy of being the Mother of Our Lord, she took the vow of virginity; exalted because God, looking upon what Mary believed was her nothingness, once more created a world out of "nothing."

Blessedness is happiness. Mary had everything that could make a person truly happy. For to be happy, three things are required: to have everything one wants, to have it united in one person who is loved with all the ardor of one's soul, and to know that this is possessed without sin. Mary had all three.

If her Divine Son had not intended that His Mother should be honored where He is adored, He would never have permitted these prophetic words of hers to have had fulfillment. He would have nudged the hands of the artists at their canvas, would have stopped the lips of the poets, and would have frozen our fingers as we told our beads.

How quickly the great men and women are forgotten, and how few of their names are remembered at all! A guidebook is necessary for us to identify the dead in Westminster Abbey; few are the citizens who know their world war heroes, after whom the streets were named. But here in Mary is a young girl, obscure and unknown, in an outpost of the Roman Empire; she who affirms that the law of forgetfulness will be suspended in her favor, and she prophesies it before a single Gospel has been written, before the Son of God has seen the light of day in the flesh.

He has mercy upon those who fear Him, from generation to generation; He has done valiantly with the strength of His arm driving the proud astray in the conceit of their hearts; He has put down the mighty from their seat, and exalted the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty handed; He has protected His servant Israel, keeping His merciful design in remembrance, according to the promise which He made to our forefathers, Abraham and his posterity for ever more.

This part of the Magnificat is the most revolutionary document ever written, a thousand times more revolutionary than anything Karl Marx wrote. In relation to the preceding verses, it is suggestive to compare Mary's Revolution with the Revolution of Marx and Communism.


Mary begins with the soul and God. "My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit has found joy in God Who is my Savior." The whole universe revolves around these two realities: the soul aspiring to an infinity of happiness, which God alone can supply.

Marx ended the first of his books with the words: "I hate all the gods." For Communism there is only matter endowed with its own inner contradiction, which begets movement. Since there is only matter, there is no soul. The belief that each man has value "is founded," said Marx, "on the Christian illusion that every man has a soul."

There is no God, because a belief in God alienates man from himself and makes him subject to someone outside self. There is not God, but man. "Religion is the Opium of the people."


"All generations will count me blessed." She will be an exception to the law of forgetfulness, because the Lord of History has willed that she be venerated through the centuries. History is providentially determined. The progress and fall of civilizations depend on the moral ordering of human life. Peace is the tranquility of order, and order implies justice to God and neighbor. Peace fails when each man seeks his own and forgets the love of God and neighbor.

History is dialectically determined. It is not God or the way men live that decides the progress and decay of civilization but a law of class conflict that continues until Communism takes over and classes no longer exist. The future is determined by matter. The present generation and all the past can look to a remote future where they will dance on the graves of their ancestors. Certain classes are destined to be the funeral pyre to light future generations, lifting clenched fists over the corpse of Lenin .


"He has mercy on those who fear Him, from generation to generation." Fear is here understood as filial, that is, a shrinking from hurting one who is loved. Such is the fear a son has for a devoted father and the fear a Christian has of Christ. Fear is here related to love.

Communism is founded not on filial but on servile fear, the kind of fear a slave has for a tyrant, a worker has for a dictator. The fear begotten by the revolution is a compulsion neurosis, born not of love but of power. A revolution that destroys filial fear of God always ends in the creation of servile fear of man.


Both Mary and Marx advocate the exaltation of the poor, the dethroning of the proud, the emptying of the rich in favor of the socially disinherited, but they differ in their technique.


Violence is necessary. "The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence." But the violence must be against self, against its selfishness, greed, lust, and pride.
The sword that strikes must be thrust inward to rid oneself of all that would make one despise neighbor.

The transfer of wealth, which makes for the prosperity of the poor, is inspired by an inner charity that loves God and neighbor.

Man has nothing to lose but the chains of sin, which darkens his intellect and weakens his will. By throwing off sin through the merits of Christ, man becomes a child of God, an heir of Heaven, enjoying inner peace in this life and even amid its trials, and an ultimate and final ecstasy of love in Heaven.

Violence is necessary. But the violence must be against neighbor, against those who own, who believe in God and in democracy. Egotism must be disguised as social justice.
The sword that strikes must be thrust outward to rid society of all that would despise a revolution based on hate.
The transfer of wealth takes place through "violent confiscation" and the shifting of booty and loot from one man's pocket to another.

Man has nothing to lose but the chains that bind him to God and to property. Thanks, then, to atheism and socialism, man will be restored to himself as the true god.
It is remarkable how Mary begins her Magnificat with her personal experiences and soon passes on to identify herself with the whole human race. She looks ahead and sees what the effect of the birth of her Son will be to the world, how it will improve the whole condition of human life, how it will free the oppressed, feed the hungry, and assist the helpless. And when she said these words, her Son was not yet born --— although one would think, from the joy of the song, that He was already in her arms. She is singing here a song of pure faith about something certain to happen because God will make it come true, not predicting the mere revolution of blind material forces.

There is an intrinsic antagonism between her revolution and any other, because hers is based on the true psychology of human nature. Hers is based on the existence of an immense want, so serious and so imperative that every honest heart must crave for its satisfaction. Happy are they who experience, within themselves, the expelling of pride and egotism, and in whom spiritual hunger is fed --— who discover, before it is too late, that they are poor, and naked, and blind, and who seek to clothe themselves with the raiment of grace that her Son brings.

(1) Calvin Le Compte, I Sing of a Maiden (Macmillan, 1949).


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