The 31st of May is the Feast Day of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St Elizabeth, the mother of St John the Baptist. The account that is found in the Gospel according to St Luke continues the story of the Incarnation that the Church marks in March with the Feast of the Annunciation; the time when the archangel Gabriel informed Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This visit of Our Lady to Elizabeth gave birth to perhaps one of the most famous Christian hymns – the Magnificat. It is one that we sing each Mothering Sunday to a setting by Timothy Dudley-Smith. The sound of ‘Tell Out My Soul’ is always guaranteed to raise the roof at St Anne’s. It is also central to the liturgical genius of Thomas Cranmer for the Evening Office in the Book of Common Prayer. In the depths of Reformation England the place of Mary and her song of praise to God was of central importance. The words are quite beautiful and perhaps we may wish to revisit them in whatever form is available to us.
In response to Elizabeth’s greeting, Mary exclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” Mary does not draw attention to herself (this is a common theme throughout the Gospels) and in the first instance references God as the source of the blessing that she carries in her womb. She has been described as a finger pointing away from herself to her Son and this continues to be the case for many millions of Christians today. In the opening verses of the Magnificat we encounter both Mary’s humility and her joy. As Christians we would do well to take Mary’s words and with her claim them for our own. The question I ask myself is this “How does my soul magnify the Lord and does my spirit rejoice in God my Saviour?” The challenge from Mary to us is to magnify the Lord in the circumstances we find ourselves in.
We live in trying times but I am encouraged by those of the Faith who lived through the blitz in London who underwent eight weeks of continuous bombing and those in Manchester who had 450 tonnes of high explosives and 2,000 incendiaries dropped on them in only two nights. Prayer continued, the life of the Church was a visible reminder of our Easter Faith in spite of all that surrounded them – privations on a gargantuan scale.
As we celebrate VE Day on the 8th of May we would do well to take example from those Christian men and women whom we have known who endured the horrors of nearly six years of global armed conflict and in spite of everything that would suggest otherwise were still able to say, “Tell out my Soul the greatness of the Lord!”
Remember VE Day and those who kept the Faith.