The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – July 2

** Visitation **Our Lady's visit to Her cousin Elizabeth already engaged our attention whilst we were preparing for the Christmas festival. But it is only fitting to return again to an event so important in Our Lady's life; the mere commemoration of this Mystery made on Ember Friday in Advent would be insufficient to bring forward all it contains of deep teaching and holy joy. Since in the course of centuries the holy liturgy has been gaining more and more completeness, it is but natural that this precious mine should come to be further opened in honor of the Virgin Mother. The Order of St. Francis, it would seem, as well as certain particular churches, such as Rheims and Paris for example – had already taken the initiative, when Pope Urban VI, in 1389, instituted today's solemnity. The Pope counselled a fast on the vigil of the Feast, and ordered that it should be followed by an Octave; he granted for its celebration the same indulgences as Urban IV had, in the previous century, attached to the festival of Corpus Christi. The Bull of promulgation, stopped by the Pontiff's death, was again taken up and published by Boniface IX, his successor on the Chair of Saint Peter.

We learn from the lessons of the Office formerly composed for this Feast, that the object of its institution was, as Urban conceived it, to obtain the cessation of the schism then desolating the Church. The Papacy, exiled from Rome for 70 years, had barely re-entered it, when Hell, infuriated at a return which crossed all its plans, had taken revenge by ranging under two leaders the flock of the one sheepfold. So deep was the obscurity wherewith miserable intrigues contrived to cover the authority of the legitimate Shepherd, that numbers of churches, in all good faith, began to hesitate, and ended at last in preferring the deceptive staff of a hireling. Thicker yet was the darkness to grow, till night should be so dense, that for a moment the conflicting mandates of three "popes" would simultaneously spread through the world; whilst the faithful, struck with stupor, would be at an utter loss to discern accurately which was the voice of Christ's true Vicar. Never before had the Bride of the Son of God been in a more piteous situation. But Our Lady, to whom the true Pope had turned at the first rising of the storm, did not betray the Church's confidence. During all those years whilst the unfathomable justice of the Most High let the powers of Hell hold sway, She stood for the defence of Holy Church, trampling the head of the old serpent so thoroughly under Her victorious foot, that in spite of the terrific confusion he had stirred up, he was unable to sully the faith of the people. Their attachment was steadfast to the unity of the Roman See, whosoever might be, in this uncertainty, its veritable occupant. Thus the West, divided in opinion, but in principle ever one and undivided, reunited herself spontaneously as soon as God's moment came for the return of light. The hour having arrived for the Queen of Saints to assume the offensive, She would not content Herself with merely re-establishing at its former post the army of the elect; Satan now must expiate his audacity by being forced to yield back to Holy Church those conquests which for centuries had seemed his forever. The dragon still raged at Basel (the city where the schismatic faction had remained, while the loyal bishops continued the 17th General Council at Florence), when Florence already beheld the heads of the Greek schism, the Armenians and the Ethiopians, the cavillers of Jerusalem, of Syria and of Mesopotamia, all compensating by their unhoped-for adhesion to the Roman Pontiff for the anguish just suffered in the West.

It was now to be shown that such a return of nations, in the very midst even of the tempest, was indeed the work of Her who had been called upon by the Pope, half a century before, to assist the Bark of Peter. Even they of the factious assembly of Basel gave proof of this, in a way which has unfortunately been too much overlooked by historians who undervalue the high importance that liturgical facts hold in the history of Christendom. When about to separate, these last abettors of the schism devoted the forty-third session of their pretended council to the promulgation of this Feast of the Visitation, in the establishment of which Urban VI had, from the outset, placed all his hopes. Notwithstanding the resistance of some of the more obstinate, the schism may, from that hour, be said to have ended. The storm was subsiding; the Name of Mary, invoked thus by both sides, shone resplendent as the sign of peace amidst the clouds, even as the rainbow in its sweet radiance unites both extremities of the horizon.

But, it may be asked, why was the Feast of the Visitation specially chosen, more than any other, as the monument of restored peace? The answer seems to be suggested in the very nature of the mystery itself and in the manner of its accomplishment.

Here, more particularly, does Mary appear as the Ark of the Covenant, bearing within Her the Emmanuel, the living testimony of a more true reconciliation, of an alliance more sublime between Earth and Heaven, than that limited compact of servitude entered into between Jehovah and the Jews, amidst the roar of thunder. By Her means, far better than through Adam, all men are now brethren; for He Whom She hides within Her is to be the Firstborn of the great family of the sons of God. Scarcely is He conceived than there begins for Him the mighty work of universal propitiation. Arise, then, O Lord, Thou and the Ark which Thou hast sanctified, whence Thine own sanctity will pour down upon the Earth! During the whole of Her rapid passage from Nazareth to the mountains of Judea, She shall be protected by wings of Cherubim jealously eager to contemplate Her glory.

Favored with benediction was that Levite's house, while for three months it sheltered the Most High hidden in the Ark of the Covenant; more favored still the home of the priest Zachary, harboring, for the same lapse of time, Eternal Wisdom enshrined in Mary's virginal womb. Yet beneath Zachary's roof, blessed as it was, the enemy of God and man was still holding one captive: the angelic embassy that had announced John's miraculous conception and birth could not exempt him from the shameful tribute that every son of Adam must pay to the prince of death, on entering into this life. As formerly Azotus, so now Dagon may not remain standing erect in face of the Ark (1 Kings 5). Mary appears, and Satan, at once overturned, is subjected to utter defeat in John's soul (which was cleansed from original sin and sanctified at the sound of Mary's greeting to Elizabeth), a defeat that is not to be his last; for this new Ark of the Covenant will not stay its victories till the reconciliation of the last of the elect be effected.

Let us, then, hail this day with songs of gladness: for this mystery contains the germ of every victory gained by the Church and Her sons: henceforth the sacred Ark is borne at the head of every combat waged by the new Israel. Division between man and his God is at an end, between the Christian and his brethren! The ancient Ark was powerless to prevent the division of the tribes; henceforth if schism and heresy do hold out for some years against Mary, it shall be but to evince more fully Her glorious triumph at last. Let us join the tribute of our songs to John's exulting gladness, to Elizabeth's sudden exclamations, to Zachary's canticle; therewith let earth re-echo!

Chapel of the Mamertine Prison with St. Peter's WellThe Same Day – Ss. Processus and Martinianus, Martyrs

On this day whereon Satan, for the first time, sees his infernal crew fall back in face of the Sacred Ark, two warriors of the army of the elect take their rank in our Queen's cortege. Deputed by St. Peter himself, during this his glad octave, to wait upon Mary, they have earned this honor by reason of their faith, which taught them to recognize in Nero's condemned criminal the Chief of God's people.

Altar of Sts. Processus & Martinianus in St. Peter's BasilicaThe Prince of the Apostles was awaiting his martyrdom in the dungeon of the Mamertine prison, when, led by divine mercy, there came to him two Roman soldiers, whose names have become inseparable from his own in the Church's memory. One was called Processus, the other Martinianus. They were struck by the dignity of the old man, confided for some hours to their ward, who would not see daylight again until he was led out to execution. St. Peter spoke to them of life eternal, and of the Son of God Who so loved men as to give the last drop of His Blood for their ransom. Processus and Martinianus received with docile hearts this unexpected instruction; they accepted it with simple faith, and craved the grace of regeneration. But water was wanting in the dungeon, and St. Peter was forced to make use of the power to command nature, bestowed by Our Lord upon the Apostles when He sent them into the world. At the word of the old man a fountain sprung up from the ground, and the two soldiers were baptized in the miraculous water. Christian piety still venerates this fountain, in spite of modern-day skepticism. Processus and Martinianus soon paid with their life for the honor conferred upon them of being thus initiated into the Christian Faith by the Prince of the Apostles, and they are numbered among God's Martyrs.

In the age of peace, a basilica was raised over their tomb. Pope St. Gregory the Great pronounced there, on the solemn anniversary of their combat, his 32nd homily on the Gospel. The great Pontiff therein renders testimony to the miracles which were operated on that holy spot, and to the power which those two Saints have of protecting their devout clients. Later on, Pope St. Paschal I enriched the Basilica of St. Peter with their bodies. They now occupy the place of honor in the left arm of the Latin cross formed by the immense edifice, and they give their name to the whole side of the transept, wherein the First Vatican Council held its immortal sessions. It was fitting that this august assembly should carry on its labors under the patronage of these two valiant warriors, who were not only St. Peter's guards, but his conquest in the days of his own glorious confession. Let us not forget these illustrious protectors of Holy Church. The Feast of the Visitation, of more recent institution, has not lessened theirs; though their glory is now, so to say, lost in that of Our Lady, their power can but have gained strength by this approximation to the gentle Queen of Heaven and Earth.

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