Interior panoramic of the Church of the Visitation

Joyful Mysteries

An icon depicting the Annunciation reminds visitors of where they stand.

An icon depicting the Annunciation reminds visitors of the hallowed place at which they stand.


Our pilgrimage leader, Fr. Kratz OFM, made sure to incorporate the Rosary daily into the common prayers of the whole group.  The Brothers were already accustomed to praying the Rosary daily, but for many Catholics nowadays the practice has become quite exceptional.  As pilgrims in the Holy Land, however, we were coming into direct contact with the mysteries of the holy Rosary on a daily basis.

At Nazareth, we could view and even touch the small house where Our Lady received the Archangel Gabriel’s message (Lk 1:26-38).  In the undercroft of the Basilica of the Annunciation, Our Lady’s house at Nazareth survives partially hewn from the rock as was the custom at the time for building dwelling spaces both for humans and animals.  Digging your house under the ground provided some natural air conditioning, respite from the heat of the subtropical climate of Galilee.  Now surviving as a small, freestanding chapel beneath the largest modern church in the Holy Land, Our Lady’s house remains open to the view of pilgrims, who stand peering in at the place where the first Ave was spoken by the angelic herald:

Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women! (Lk 1:28).

Beautiful mosaic adorns the outer wall of the Church of the Visitation

Beautiful mosaic adorns the outer wall of the Church of the Visitation

Fr. Kratz asked the Brothers to lead the group in praying the Angelus, which prayer, traditionally recited thrice daily, commemorates Our Lady’s assent to God’s revealed will for her to be the mother of the promised Messias and the Incarnation of Our Lord, which began at the moment when she conceived of the Holy Ghost.  All this at the very spot at which we stood!


Directly following the Annunciation, we read in Scripture of Our Lady’s visit to her cousin Elisabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist.  It was at Elisabeth’s hilltop abode in Ain Karem, just outside of old Jerusalem that the Spirit inspired Elisabeth to proclaim the second half of the Hail Mary, “blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!” (Lk 1:42).  The Church understands John the Baptist to have been purified of Original Sin in utero when he leaped in Elisabeth’s womb at the grace-filled salutation of the pregnant Virgin (Lk 1:41).  Here also was where Our Lady, inspired by the Holy Ghost, first sang her canticle, the Magnificat, which is repeated daily with great solemnity in the prayers of Holy Mother Church at Vespers.

Fr. Slaton offers traditional Mass at the altar of St. John the Baptist in the Church of the Visitation

Fr. Slaton offers traditional Mass at the altar of St. John the Baptist in the Church of the Visitation.

One aspect of pilgrimage (no matter how well organized) that makes it profitable as a spiritual exercise is reliance on Divine Providence needed to support you in your journey so far from home.  Our Lady demonstrates this trust profoundly when, out of overflowing charity, she embarked on the dangerous and long journey from Galilee to Ain Karem to tend to the needs of her aged cousin, though she herself was also with child.  Her journey may have been as long as three weeks one way.  For us, we had a little touch of it when we realized that we had forgotten most of our travelling Mass kit at the hotel.  We had packed the “small bits,” the vestments no longer used in the Novus Ordo: the maniple, chalice veil and burse.  We had forgotten our altar cards and Missale Romanum, which are a ‘must have’ if you hope to celebrate the old Mass.

Br. Michael serves votive Low Mass of the Visitation.

Br. Michael serves votive Low Mass of the Visitation.

In 2011, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, issued a decree tolerating the traditional Latin Mass when it is said for pilgrims, but (to the extent he considered himself able) forbade its use among the parishes and for the native population (click here to read his decree).  In the decree (n. 5), he ordered that the sacristies of the various shrines and basilicas equip themselves with the necessary vestments and materials required for offering the traditional Latin Mass, and to predetermine a suitable chapel or altar that can be used for the ancient liturgy (n. 6).  In our experience, the directive to equip the sacristies was never carried out.  The sacristies are not equipped for the old rite.  So, we were a bit crestfallen upon realizing our omission.  But it didn’t hurt to ask.

Upon entering the Church of the Visitation, we perceived how Providence had anticipated our dilemma decades before the abandonment of the Latin Church’s ancient ritual.  The altar cards were ceramics, built into the wall!  Now we needed only a Missale Romanum.  We asked the sacristan if he had the Mass book for the ‘extraordinary form.’  He said that he has the Sacramentary in many languages, even Latin, but only the new rite and showed us the closet where they were kept.  “I do not think this is what you want.”  We were about to give up, when one of the brothers piped up, “Do you have a closet with old things you don’t use anymore?”  The sacristan replied, “Why yes, there is such a closet just through here.”  He brought us past the curtain into a back hallway behind the sacristy and opened a cabinet.  Top shelf: Missale Seraphicum (i.e., the Franciscan edition of the Missale Romanum), a Rituale Seraphicum and an unmatched, faded altar card for the Lavabo prayers.  The sacristan set everything up at the side altar of St. John the Baptist.  He even brought out hand-bells to ring for the Elevation.  Normally, they only allow Mass at the high altar in the Church of the Visitation, but the house superior, or ‘custos,’ gave us special permission because we needed to use the altar cards embedded in the wall (the high altar did not boast that feature).

Our Lord provided us with what we were lacking.  Against all odds, we had packed ‘exactly’ what we needed for that day though it had seemed to us inadequate.  Not always what is apparent in human terms holds true in the realm of grace.

He that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. (Lk 1:49)

Posted in Pilgrimage to the Holy Land 2015 and tagged , , , , , , , , .