4th Sunday of Advent (Lk 1:39-45) “Blessed Woman, Fruit and Womb” PDF Version
Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year C (2018): Lk 1:39-45
It would likely be near to impossible to count just how many times the Hail Mary prayer has been uttered since it was first composed through the archangel’s salutation of “Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you,” to the words of joy spoken by a pregnant mother of the Blessed one who was now in her midst, to the petitions of our Church proclaiming Holy Mary to be the Mother of God who so generously prays for us now and at the hour of death, whenever that shall be.
In our own lifetimes, we have likely recited this prayer with such frequency that we too would be unable to count the times we allowed those simple words of Hail Mary to pass through our lips. Because we have spoken this prayer so often, both with fervent devotion and distracted indifference, it is important for us to pause from time to time and reflect on just what it is we are saying, or more hopefully praying.
St. Elizabeth provided her contribution to the Hail Mary prayer on that remarkable day that Mary entered into her home, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who had just caused her unborn son John to dance for joy in her womb when His Lord and God enter into his life for the very first time, causing her to shout out in joy “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Certainly, these words are an original composition by St. Elizabeth, born from the joy she felt that the Messiah was before her and her cousin, who was now also her queen and intercessor before God, rightly proclaimed as Blessed for having said yes to the mysterious plans of God’s workings of salvation. St Bede the Venerable commented that in this moment St. Elizabeth offered a blessing upon Mary “to show that she should be honoured by angels and by men and she should indeed be revered above all other women.” (In Lucae Evangelium expositio).
But a closer look at her words also show that in this moment St. Elizabeth was acting in a prophetic manner, as she proclaimed that God had yet again brought to fulfillment sacred promises that He made long ago.
Two other women in the Old Testament were exclaimed to be Blessed Among Women. They were Jael in the Book of Judges and Judith in the biblical Book that bears her name. “Both women were called Blessed for their heroic faith and courage in warding off enemies hostile to Israel. Victory was assured when both Jael and Judith assassinated the opposing military commanders with a mortal blow to the head.” (Ignatius Study Bible, New Testament, Pg. 106).
St. Elizabeth prophetically stated that Mary is like those heroic women of ancient days, because she too will inflict a mortal blow to the head of the great foe of her Son, when at the Cross He will destroy death forever and allow His Mother, standing beside Him in His agony, to wound the head of the Ancient Serpent by crushing it under her heel; for she is the Immaculate Conception, the one never tainted by sin, the one who remains faithful to God forever and the one who will never tire to continually crush the head of the Evil One who fears her above all others, save God alone.
Truly, she is Blessed and exalted above all women, yet she forever remains close to those who call upon her, just as she lovingly remained close to St. Elizabeth in the final days of her pregnancy and showed herself to be truly the Mother of the all faithful.
In calling the fruit of the womb of Mary blessed, St. Elizabeth also became one of the first heralds of the Gospel and its revelation that Jesus Christ is Perfect God and Perfect Man, existing for all ages in His Divinity, but now abiding in time in His humanity, a humanity that He received solely from Mary, bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood, heart of her heart.
St. Elizabeth was no learned theologian who could explain the great mystery of Jesus Christ being both God and Man, but through faith and docility to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit who had just entered into her life, she proclaimed in truth and trust that the little child that dwelt in the womb of Mary was Blessed.
It is hard to imagine just how overwhelmed with joy St. Elizabeth must have been when she proclaimed of Mary “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Much of that joy must have come from knowing so too was soon to give birth to a son after having waited for so long to bring life into the world.
Did she suspect that in the moment her son leaped in her womb that the Holy Spirit had specially anointed him to be the one to prepare the Way of the Lord? Did she know that in that moment, as many of the Church Fathers taught, that John was set free from Original Sin because Jesus Christ was in his midst, and so willed that His cousin be set free from the ancient curse to aid him in making straight the ways to Christ?
Only St. Elizabeth could know in the depth of her heart what great things God had done to her and her son, and so how fittingly she would respond with words of pure joy and gratitude for the lovely maiden who stood before her and would herself in a few moments sing her own canticle of praise, magnifying the Lord, rejoicing in God her savour, humbly acknowledging that all generations will call her blessed for the great things the Mighty One had done for her.
Thus, we say much more than we might expect each and every time we pray the Hail Mary. Let us be attentive to the words we speak and ask to be filled with same joy that St. Elizabeth felt when she offered her portion of this hallowed prayer in the hill country of Ein Kerem, more than 2000 years ago….