This is part 2 of a 20 part series on the Mysteries of the Rosary. If you have not done so, please read part 1.
The 2nd Joyful Mystery: The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth
“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
And Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age, to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’
Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.” -Luke 1: 39-56
There are a number of observations that should be made here. For one, it is interesting that Mary and Elizabeth meet with each other immediately after each had a miraculous conception. The grandeur of this scene is partially illuminated when we see, in response to being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’, Elizabeth’s reaction to Mary’s mere greeting; it is not too dissimilar to how Mary reacted to the Angel’s greeting earlier in the chapter: with astonishment and wonder (‘[She] cried out in a loud voice…’, ‘blessed are you among women…’, ‘how does this happen to me…’).
Why did Elizabeth react in such a way? Even more importantly, why did the Holy Spirit infuse itself within Elizabeth at this point in time? And why did Elizabeth feel compelled to confer blessings upon Mary?
If one pays close attention to the passage then the answer to all these questions becomes clear: Mary, due to her faith and trust in God, holds within her the New Covenant (i.e. the fulfillment of the Old Covenant), thus making her the Ark of the New Covenant.
We must pause here in order to discover where the clues for this conclusion reside. There are actually several places within the above passage that harken back to the Old Covenant, in particular to 2Samuel 6. This passage occurs after David, who was officially anointed King of Israel in the previous chapter, recovers the Ark of the Covenant back from the Philistines. It begins with David planning to go to ‘Baala of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God’ (2Samuel 6: 2). David eventually succeeds, bringing up ‘the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David’ (v. 12). On the face of it, it seems like a small detail…at least until you compare it to Luke 1: 39: ‘During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah’.
An interesting similarity, one might say, but by itself it appears to be nothing more than a minor coincidence. It is not until we compare the two chapters more strictly that we see it to be far more than a coincidence. We see how, for example, David ‘came dancing before the Lord with abandon’ (2Samuel 6: 14), just as John the Baptist ‘leaped in [Elizabeth’s] womb’ (Luke 1: 41) amidst the presence of Jesus.
We also see that King David, in fear of the power of the Covenant, proclaimed, ‘How can the ark of the Lord come to me?’ (2 Samuel 6: 9) before leaving it in the house of Obed-edom. Similarly Elizabeth proclaims just as emphatically, ‘And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’ (Luke 1: 43, emphasis mine).
Lastly, we are told that the ark of the Lord ‘remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite for three months’ (2Samuel 6: 11) before King David recognized its goodness and brought it back into Jerusalem. Just like the ark of the Old Covenant, ‘Mary remained with [Elizabeth] about three months and then returned to her home’ (Luke 1: 56).
The sheer number of resemblances between these two passages (the Old Covenant, the Ark, and David on the one hand, and Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist on the other) reveals that they are not mere coincidences, but rather correlations designed to highlight some sort of truth or understanding. This leads us to ask: What is this truth? What was the purpose of God making such historical parallels through the Holy Spirit?
To answer this question, we must first understand what the Old Covenant and the ark was, for this was the focal point of 2Samuel 6. Only then can we grasp how Jesus relates to it.
The ark of the Lord in the Old Testament (Ex. 25: 10-22) served one main purpose: to house those objects that served as evidence of the Covenant God had made with the Israelites. As stated in Hebrews 9: 4, the contents of the ark of the Old Covenant were the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments written towards the climax of the Exodus (Ex. 20), the jar of Manna, the same manna that fed the Israelites throughout their journey to the Promised Land (Ex. 16), and the staff of Aaron, who was the first High Priest of the Israelites (Numbers 17: 16-25).
Intriguing insight, but it becomes far more glorious when we notice one more detail: Jesus used these symbols to declare Himself to all as the New Covenant. ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill’ (Matt. 5: 17). ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst’ (John 6: 35). ‘The main point of what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven’ (Hebrews 9: 1).
With Jesus bringing the New Law, Jesus being the true Manna from Heaven, and Jesus being the one, only, and reigning High Priest He reveals Himself to be the New Covenant itself in His very flesh, blood, soul, and divinity. And by being the New Covenant He establishes Himself as the fulfillment of the original Covenant God made to Abraham: ‘in your descendants all nations of the earth will find blessing’ (Gen. 22: 18).
And with this New Covenant housed within the womb of Mary, just as the tablets, manna, and staff were housed within the Ark, it is revealed that Mary, by the grace of her own Son, serves as the Ark of the New Covenant.
The passage ends beautifully, with Mary recognizing that God ‘has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever’ (Luke 1: 54-55). Mary is harkening back both to the original Covenant God made with Abraham (Gen. 22: 18) as well as to the Covenant God established with David, a descendant of Abraham himself: ‘do, then, bless the house of your servant, that it may be in your presence forever—since you, Lord God, have promised, and by your blessing the house of your servant shall be blessed forever’ (2 Samuel 7: 29). This universal blessing that God promises, then, is given to Abraham, ratified by David, and fulfilled by Jesus. Elizabeth’s blessings upon Mary (‘Most blessed are you among women’, ‘blessed is the fruit of your womb’, ‘blessed are you who believe’) As well as Mary’s tribute to the ‘promises’ God made to ‘Abraham and his descendants’ serve as a testament to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah who will bring about the universal blessings promised long ago, making it possible for all who come to Him to find Eternal Life.
With all of this in mind, it is easy to see how everyone involved in this scene seems to radiate joy and excitement. How could they not when faced with the prospect of the Messiah coming among them to achieve what had been promised to their ancestors thousands of years beforehand? Understandably, it becomes too difficult for these two Saintly women to contain themselves, as it should be for all who are given the grace to believe such Good News.
Thus ends the second Joyful Mystery.