May is traditionally the month of Mary, and today we celebrate the feast of the Visitation, when the Virgin Mary, carrying Jesus in her womb, went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. This event, which we know well because we commemorate it as the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, is rich in Old Testament symbolism, and can help us think about Our Lady’s relationship to the Lord who is present – body, blood, soul and divinity – in the Eucharist.
A beautiful Eucharistic text from the 14th-century, the 'Ave Verum Corpus', begins: “Hail, true Body, born of the Virgin Mary”. This underlines just how close Mary is to the Eucharist because the body and blood of Christ that we adore and receive in Holy Communion is the flesh and blood that Christ took from the Virgin Mary’s womb. So, in a sense, it is Mary who gives us the Bread of Life. As the Dominican saint Albert the Great, after whom my priory in Edinburgh is named, said: “Mary has given us what is Flesh of her flesh and Bone of her bone, and in the Eucharist she continues to give us this sweet, virginal, heavenly banquet”.
Each day the Church, in the Angelus, marvels at the mystery of the Incarnation, by which God took flesh from Mary’s. And that same flesh and blood is given to us to eat and drink in the Mass. As always, Mary’s relationship to the Lord reminds us of his sacred humanity, it grounds us in the bodily-ness of the Eucharist lest we spiritualize the Eucharist and make it just a symbol.
This stained glass window is from Magdalene College, Cambridge.