Friday, December 19, 2008

From the Divine Office for Ember Friday

On Ember Wednesday the Scripture for Matins was of the Annunciation. So today, fittingly, the Scripture assigned to the Divine Office at Matins on this Ember Friday in Advent is the following account of the Visitation of the Mother of God to her cousin Elizabeth, from the first chapter of Luke.

And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

A Homily of Saint Ambrose, Bishop
It is normal that anyone who wishes to be believed should establish his credibility, and so after announcing to the Virgin Mary something that could not be seen, the Angel cited an example to buttress her faith by showing that whatever is pleasing to God is possible to Him. He told Mary about her cousin's having conceived a child although she was an elderly woman, already sterile. As soon as the holy Virgin had heard the Angel's message, she arose and journeyed through the hill country to visit her cousin. She did not go out of a spirit of skepticism over the heavenly oracle, or because of any uncertainty regarding the messenger, or because she doubted her cousin's pregnancy. She went joyfully, as one goes to fulfill a vow, devoutly, as pious persons perform a duty, swiftly. For her heart was full of happiness. Where else should she hasten than to the hills and heights, now that she was full of God? The grace of the Holy Ghost does not undertake things sluggishly.

As pious women, you also should learn from the example of the Mother of God how to take tender care of a relative who is with child. Until that moment Mary had remained alone at home, but now her maidenly reserve does not keep her from the public roads. The rough mountain byways do not daunt her zealous purpose; nor the long and wearisome journey her charitable zeal. With her heart bent on loving service and giving no thought to any obstacle, our Virgin leaves her home and hastens through the hill country.

You, maidens, follow her example. Do not idle about from place to place, or loiter in the streets, or mix in public gossip. When in the public view Mary went in haste. But she tarried long, indeed for three whole months, when at the home of her cousin.

Maidens, if you imitate Mary's modesty, imitate her humility as well. Cousin goes to visit cousin, she who was young to the one advanced in years. And Mary, too, acted first and was the first to give greeting. For it is proper that the more chaste a virgin is, the humbler should she be. She should know how to be of service to her seniors. She who professes chastity should be a model of humility. Humility is the basis of devoted love, and also a norm of doctrine. For this example gives us something to ponder, how the greater comes to the lesser, and comes to aid the lesser. Mary comes to Elizabeth. Christ, to John.

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