05 November 2011

Saint Elizabeth

5 NOVEMBER 2011. Today is the feast day of Saint Elizabeth, the mother of Saint John the Baptist, and famously recorded to sing praise to Mary, our Queen. Elizabeth, a name taken by many saints, in Hebrew means "worshiper of God."

All that we know of Saint Elizabeth comes from Saint Luke. The Gospel of Saint Luke tells us that Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron the high priest (Lk 1, 5-1), and that she and her husband, Zachariah, were "righteous in the eyes of God, observing all commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly," (Lk 1, 6) but were also childless and advanced in age. However, while serving as a priest in the sanctuary of the temple, Zachariah was visited by Saint Gabriel the archangel, who said to him:
Do not be afraid Zachariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of [the] Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.
(Lk 1, 13-16) Zachariah, however, questioned Saint Gabriel, asking how any of this could be possible since both he and his wife were advanced in years. The angel of the Lord then identified himself as Saint Gabriel and reproved Zachariah for his doubt:
I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak  to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.
(Lk 1, 19-20) When Zachariah emerged from the sanctuary he was unable to speak and those in the temple knew that he had seen a vision. After Zachariah's days of service in the temple were completed he returned home and Elizabeth conceived a child.
After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months saying, "So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others."
Saint Luke's account continues as Saint Gabriel the Archangel is next sent to the Virgin Mary, the cousin of Elizabeth, who was betrothed to a man named Joesph of the house of David. Saint Gabriel brings the joy and presence of the Annunciation to Mary, revealing to her that the power of the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and that she would conceive son, who would be called Jesus, the son of God. (Lk 1, 28-35). Saint Gabriel also delivers the good news of Elizabeth: that she was in her sixth month, having conceived a son in her old age, "for nothing will be impossible for God." (Lk 1, 37)

After the Annunciation, Mary travels to the hill county to a town in Judah to greet Elizabeth:
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."
(Lk 1, 41-45) There is nothing in Saint Luke's account that reveals for us that Saint Elizabeth has been told that Mary's child is the Christ, the saviour of the world. So, Saint Elizabeth, "filled with the Holy Spirit," receives the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ's presence, which is manifested for us by the leap of joy by Saint John the Baptist while still in Saint Elizabeth's womb.

Mary's response to the greeting of Elizabeth is recorded as the Magnificat. In Saint Luke's account, Mary reacts to Elizabeth's greeting as a servant would with a psalm of praise. Scholars believe that Saint Luke may have decided to include the Magnificat, an Jewish Christian hymn (with the exception of verse 48), at this point in the story of Mary as appropriately reflecting the themses of the Gospel, shown in Mary and Saint Elizabeth: joy and exultation in the Lord, ; the lowly being singled out for God's favor; the reversal of human fortunes; and the fulfillment of Old Testament promises.

Saint Luke tells us that Mary remained with Saint Elizabeth about three months, then returned home.

Next in Saint Luke's account is the nativity of Saint John the Baptist:
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord has shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zachariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing to God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?" For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

(Lk 1, 57-66) This is the last mention of Saint Elizabeth in the Gospels. She is not mentioned in any other chapter of the Bible. Saint Luke's account continues with the Canticle of Zachariah (Lk 1, 68-79) and ends with the statement that Saint John "grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel." (Lk 1, 80)

We have no other knowledge of Saint Elizabeth's life. Her life before the Gospel account; her age at death; when, where, and how she died are all historical details that have been lost the grains of time that pass away, as every living thing passes away. What we do possess, however, is Saint Luke's account of Saint Elizabeth's humble acknowledgment of Mary as the Mother of the Lord, and her depiction as the faith-filled and dutiful servant of the Lord, herself, as the mother of Saint John the Baptist: "the voice of one crying out in the desert." (Jn 1, 23)

Saint Elizabeth, mother of Saint John the Baptist, pray for us!

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