This feast day reflects the biblical report about the visitation of Mary with Elisabeth, her relative (Luke 1:39-45). When the pregnant Elisabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child in her womb leaped for joy. The encounter of these two pregnant women also anticipates the encounter of the future Redeemer and his messenger, John the Baptist. Elisabeth declares blessed are you who believed... and Mary responds with her canticle My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.
The Franciscan superior general, Bonaventure, introduced this feast day for his order in 1263. The date correlated with the birth of John the Baptist and thus it was set on the day after his octave. Pope Pius V inserted this feast day into the calendar of the universal church in 1568/70. In order to better mark the chronology of events – Annunciation (March 25) – Visitation of the Blessed Virgin – Birth of John the Baptist (June 24), the new liturgical calendar (after the Second Vatican Council) moved the feast to May 31 (feast of Queenship of Mary until then). Thus Visitation concludes the month of May, the traditional month of Marian devotions.
Catholic liturgy offers readings from Zep 3:14-18; Rom 12:9-16; and Luke 1:39-56.