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The painting above is from one of my favourite artists, who painted my favourite painting, La Primavera; Alessandro Botticelli. This is of the Annunciation from Angel Gabriel to Mary and is on display in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It is a wall painting from the hospital of San Martino alla Scala that housed orphans. It was painted in 1481. It is an interpretation of the moment when Angel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary and foretells of what is to come. This moment alludes to her relationship with Joseph and his eventual trust and blind faith in God. It also showed his capacity to be both human and to love.
Easter is a unique celebration, something about it reaches deep into my soul. Whilst Christmas remains my favourite holiday, Easter is most sublime. It is a rebirth, spring and new beginnings. In the Catholic calendar, it is a renewal of our Baptismal promises, after a period of forty days of cleansing, so to speak, Lent. Unlike Christmas which is a new birth, Easter is a rebirth, a second chance, death and resurrection. Its deeply moving.
My favourite story in the Bible is that of Elizabeth and Mary, the cousins, and the painting above is the Visitation, the second mystery from the Joyful mysteries. The Joyful and Glorious mysteries happen to be my two favourite, both have to do with the sacrifices of a mother. I have a profound regard for mothers, possibly because I have a deep affinity for Mary- she is the intermediary between us and Christ. Elizabeth, barren for most of her marriage to Zachariah, becomes pregnant in her old age through the Grace of God. In this painting by Mariotto Albertinelli, the story of Mary’s Visitation is imagined as is Mary’s role as the one to pray for us, to bridge the gap between man and God. After being told by the Angel Gabriel that Elizabeth is with child, Mary, now pregnant, visits with her cousin who is six months along in her pregnancy. In both stories- the Angel Gabriel announcing the birth of Christ to Mary, and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth- in greeting, both the Angel and Elizabeth bestow upon Mary words of the most powerful prayer; The Hail Mary.
“Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” Elizabeth says to Mary when at the sound of her voice the child in her leapt for joy. That greeting during the Visitation prompts Mary to speak her most beautiful words in praise; Mary’s Song of Praise; The Magnificat.
My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.
He looks on his servant in her lowliness
Henceforth all ages will call me Blessed.
The almighty works marvels for me
Holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
on those who fear Him.
He puts forth his arm in strength
And scatters the proud hearted.
He casts the might from their thrones
And raises the lowly.
He fills the starving with good things
And sends the rich away empty.
He protects Israel his servant
Remembering his mercy.
The mercy promised to our fathers
To Abraham and his children forever.
Although short, the story of Mary and Elizabeth together, remains one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful. It tells of deep faith and belief in something bigger than one’s self. They will bear children- one who will become the saviour of mankind, the other who will pave the way for him. Both will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Without question, and through the strength of faith their belief is absolute. It is this unflinching belief in the glory of God in their lives, and their thanksgiving at being the mothers to such children, that catapults a series of events in the Catholic faith; of celebration, of mourning, of reflection. It is for this reason that John The Baptist is my favourite saint, the story about him; his birth- Elizabeth in her old age acknowledges the greatness of Mary during the Visitation and the child she carries, the joy of her unborn child at being in the presence of the unborn saviour- life, and death is something I find most endearing coupled with that is the fact that he is the Baptist, one who gives others the chance for a renewed life. Who hasn’t been in need of a second, third or fourth chance? One who baptised Christ whilst knowing he was “unfit to tie the laces of his shoes“. John’s life is something of a prerequisite for Jesus’, his passion and resurrection.
Whether or not you celebrate Easter, may the blessing of the new season and a chance at a renewal of whatever it is you hope for, be with you and your family. And may we never take that chance for granted, however many times we receive it.