On the day after the Annunciation Mary’s many guardian angels appeared before her visibly, and with deep humility they adored their incarnate King in His Mother’s womb, saying to her: “Now, O Lady, thou art the true Ark of the Testament. We wish to obey thee as servants of the supreme Lord whose Mother thou art.” And indeed when Mary was alone, they helped her in her household work, and whenever she ate alone they served her the modest meals which she took at her poor table.

Now at times God sent a number of birds to visit His Mother. Greeting her with lively movements, as if wishing to congratulate her, they divided into harmonious choirs and chirped and sang sweetly for her. They also brought her flowers in their beaks and dropped them onto her hands and then waited until she asked them to sing. When she told them to praise and give thanks to their Creator with her, they all bowed low on the ground to worship the Lord and to honor His Mother. Sometimes in bad weather birds came to her for protection, and she gave them food and shelter.

Three days after the Annunciation the Lord revealed to Mary in a vision that the son whom her cousin Elizabeth had already conceived was destined to be a great prophet and forerunner of the Messiah, and that it was God’s will that Mary should visit her in order that both mother and child might be sanctified by the presence of their Redeemer. Although going out in public and leaving her home for a trip of several days into the mountains of Judea meant a real sacrifice to Mary, she gladly thanked God for this opportunity to serve Him and then asked St. Joseph for his permission. He still knew nothing about the Annunciation, and now Mary told him only that the Lord had informed her that Elizabeth was with child, and that she felt obliged to visit her. Joseph willingly agreed to her plans, and having borrowed a lowly donkey and prepared some provisions consisting of a little fruit, bread, and a few fishes, they were ready to leave. But first Mary knelt at St. Joseph’s feet and, despite his hesitation, insisted that he give her his blessing. Then, raising her eyes and her heart to the Lord, she arose and they set out, accompanied by her numerous invisible guardian angels.

Many times during this tiring four days’ journey Mary dismounted and urged Joseph to ride, but he never accepted her offer, though now and then he did allow her to walk with him. Often she conversed spiritually with her angels about the divine mysteries, and at other times she spoke with Joseph about the coming of the Redeemer. To his profound wonderment and joy, her words filled him with an entirely new understanding and love for God, and she realized that the Word Incarnate was giving him unusual graces. In the course of this trip Mary and Joseph had many opportunities to practice charity, for the Blessed Virgin could not remain idle at the sight of want. Some innkeepers received them kindly, while others were rude. Whenever she could, Mary visited the poor and the sick, consoling and sometimes curing them. One poor girl who was ill with a bad fever was suddenly healed in Mary’s presence, and for the rest of her life she never forgot the beautiful young lady who helped her.

At last the holy couple reached the little village of Ain-Karem in the Judean hills five miles west of Jerusalem. As they approached the house of Zachariah, which was situated in the midst of a lovely garden on an isolated slope, St. Joseph hastened ahead in order to announce their visit, calling out to those within the house:

“The Lord be with you and fill your souls with divine grace!”

St. Elizabeth, who was tall and past middle age, with a small face and very sweet features, had been forewarned by the Lord Himself that Mary of Nazareth had set out to visit her, although the mystery of the Annunciation had not yet been revealed to her. Elizabeth immediately came out to welcome her cousin, who as the younger in years hastened to greet her, saying:

“The Lord be with you, my dearest cousin.”

They met near a fountain and clasped hands affectionately. At this moment the Blessed Virgin became as it were suffused with a mystic light, and a bright ray went forth from her to Elizabeth and had an extraordinary effect on the latter, as she replied:

“The same Lord reward you for having come in order to give me this pleasure.”

Holding hands they crossed the garden to the house, where St. Elizabeth again welcomed her cousin and invited her to enter. Once inside, they threw their arms around each other and remained for some time in a warm embrace. Then Mary said in a most friendly way: “May God save you, my dearest cousin, and may His Divine Light give you grace and life!”

At the sound of Mary’s voice, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, which revealed to her the Mystery of the Incarnation, the unique dignity of Mary, and her own son’s sanctification. Rapt in joy she looked reverently at the Holy Mother of God -then, stepping back a little and lifting her hands, she exclaimed with an expression of deep humility, happiness and inspiration:

“Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb! And how have I deserved that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, the moment that the sound of thy greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leapt for joy! And blessed is she who has believed, because the things promised her by the Lord shall be accomplished.”

Mary humbly referred these words of praise to the Creator.

/ was similarly moved by an extraordinary joy in my heart, so that I spoke words about God that I myself did not devise, and my soul could hardly contain itself with joy.

Crossing her hands on her breast, Mary intoned in the sweetest and softest voice:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord.

“And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.

“Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

“For He that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is His name.

“And His mercy is from generation unto generation to them that fear Him.

“He hath showed might in His arm: He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

“He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble.

“He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich He hath sent empty away.

“He hath received Israel His servant: being mindful of His mercy.

“As He spoke to our fathers: to Abraham and to his seed for ever.”

Thanks to a divine inspiration, St. Elizabeth was able to recite the Magnificat at the same time as Mary.

While Elizabeth marveled at the fervor of the Holy Spirit that spoke through me, I likewise marveled at the grace of God in her, and we praised God together.

Then St. Elizabeth offered herself and her whole family and all her house for the service of the Mother of God, asking Mary to take as a quiet retreat the room which she herself was accustomed to use for her prayers. The Blessed Virgin accepted with humble thanks, and used the room for meditation and sleeping; and no one ever entered it except the two cousins. Mary also offered to serve Elizabeth as a maid, for she said that this was the purpose of her visit.

When toward evening the two holy women came forth after a long friendly talk about the heavenly mysteries that were to be accomplished in them, as soon as the Blessed Virgin saw her cousin’s husband Zachariah, a tall and handsome old priest, she asked him for his blessing, which he gave her without saying a word, for he had been stricken dumb six months earlier in the Temple when he had doubted the angel’s prophecy that Elizabeth would bear a son.

Three days later St. Joseph returned to his work in Nazareth, as Mary planned to spend three months with her cousin. During this time, in addition to all her usual prayers, the Blessed Virgin busied herself by sewing and preparing swaddling clothes for her cousin’s baby. And whenever she could, despite Elizabeth’s protests, Mary swept the house and her own room, and washed the dishes with the servants. One of the latter was a very irritable and nervous woman who easily gave way to anger and even to cursing. But as a result of her growing love and reverence for Mary, she soon became kind, meek and self-controlled. And a vain, sensual neighbor who dropped in to see what she called “this guest who gives herself such holy airs,” after staring at the Blessed Virgin with impertinent curiosity, went home and began to weep sincerely over her sins and evil intentions. Naturally the holy Mother of Mercy also prayed for all such persons whom she met, and thus usually obtained their conversion.

Every evening Mary and Elizabeth recited the Magnificat together, standing facing each other in Mary’s room, with their arms crossed on their chests and their veils lowered over their faces. Sometimes they spent nearly all night praying together. Mary always arose at midnight for her prayers. A few times St. Elizabeth merited to see the Mother of God in ecstasy, raised above the ground and radiant with supernatural splendor and beauty.

Often during the intense heat of these early summer months, Mary went with Elizabeth and Zachariah into their lovely garden in the evenings, and they all took a light supper outdoors and then went for a walk by moonlight in the surrounding fields and hills before retiring for the night. But they always arose before sunrise.

During the third month of the visit, St. Elizabeth begged her young cousin, whom she loved deeply, to stay with her at least until the birth of Zachariah’ son. “Let me see my child in your arms, dear Mary,” she pleaded. “Do not deny this consolation to me nor this great happiness to my son.” With her usual prudence, Mary agreed that they should both pray to know God’s will. And the Lord said to her:

“My Dove, assist My servant Elizabeth at her childbirth. And after her son shall be circumcised, return to thy home with Joseph. And continue to pray to Me for the salvation of souls.”

A few days later, while Mary prayed fervently in her room for both mother and child, with only moderate pains St. Elizabeth gave birth to a fine baby son, who was destined to be the holy Forerunner of Christ. After he was wrapped in the swaddling clothes made by Mary’s own hands, the Blessed Virgin came into her cousin’s room and took the babe into her arms. The newborn child already had the use of reason by a special grace, and knowing that Mary bore in her womb the Word Incarnate, he gazed at her with great love and adored his Lord in her with intense humility and thanksgiving. Holding him in her arms, Mary offered him to the Eternal Father and prayed for him and for his future ministry. Then, while St. Elizabeth looked on with keen joy, Mary lovingly caressed the saintly child -but she did not kiss him, as she wished to keep her chaste lips untouched for her own divine Son.

Naturally this extraordinary birth after so many years of childlessness was generally considered almost a miracle, and numerous friends and relatives came to congratulate Zachariah and Elizabeth, whose joy and gratitude were touching. Then in a private talk Mary informed her cousin that neither she nor her husband was destined by God to live very long and that they should therefore be still more generous in their charity to the poor, for the Lord would take care of their son. And she helped her good hosts prepare and distribute numerous gifts to the poor.

Eight days after his birth, the baby boy was circumcised, and during the discussion as to his name, his father Zachariah wrote on a tablet: “His name is John.” In that very moment, at Mary’s prayer, he recovered the use of his voice and joyfully broke forth into the inspired canticle, the Benedictus:

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited and wrought the redemption of His people. . . that, delivered from the hand of our enemies, we should serve Him without fear, in holiness and justice before Him all our days. And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give to His people knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of their sins, because of the loving kindness of our God. . . .”

A few days later St. Joseph came to accompany Mary back to Nazareth. Then the Blessed Virgin said a sad farewell to her dear cousin and her husband. Kneeling before Zachariah, she took his hand and begged him to bless her and to forgive her for all her faults while in his house. The old priest, who knew now that she was the chosen Mother of the Messiah, was deeply moved, and giving her his blessing he said: “In thee let all nations know their God, and through thee let the name of the Lord of Jacob be glorified.” Next Mary consoled St. Elizabeth, who was heartbroken at seeing her leave, and taking the child John in her arms again, Mary gave him many mystic blessings and graces, while he whispered to her: “You are the Mother of God Himself- may your intercession never fail me!” And he kissed her hand three times. Then, after St. Joseph had also bid farewell to his good friends, Mary kneeled before him for his blessing, and they set out on their journey home.

During this four-day trip the Blessed Virgin mercifully healed a poor woman who was partly possessed by evil spirits, and she also converted to a better life an innkeeper who received her and Joseph kindly. Because she was now in her third month with child, she was more easily fatigued. And now she prayed more than ever that the Lord might assist St. Joseph with special graces and understanding when he became aware of her condition, as would inevitably happen soon. For she knew that she could not explain God’s holy secret to him until the Lord Himself allowed her to do so.

The late Raphael Brown was a well-known author and secular Franciscan who wrote and translated many Catholic and Franciscan Works. The above article is an excerpt from his book, The Life of Mary as Seen by the Mystics, Tan, 1991.