Today we celebrate the singular turning point of history: the moment about 2000 years ago, when Mary of Nazareth performed the greatest act of communication in all time, saying "Be it done unto me according to thy word". And so, having received this communication, God the Son, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, took to Himself the human form of a single living human cell, in the state of the fertilized egg - and so the Word was made flesh, and began to dwell among us.
Someday perhaps there will be others to collect Father Jaki's words about this topic, which is the critical substrate of his The Savior of Science among others. But it may be well for us to consider Father's words this topic, as difficult as it may be for some - because it is a matter of science, not faith, which establishes the humanity of the Fruit of the Womb. (It is true that some scholars use the term "embryo" at this stage, but the point is that entity in question is an unborn living human being, and so true Man as well as true God.)
All scholars are in a sense glasshouse-men, though not always wary of throwing stones. Quite possibly they will remain stone-deaf on hearing, very likely not for the first time, that the very first journey of Christ was a monumental demonstration of the fully human stature of the human fetus, be it but ten days old and not larger than a pinhead.
That journey of Christ began once the Angel's visit to Mary was over. "Thereupon," states St. Luke, "Mary rose and proceeded with haste to a town in the hill country of Juda," generally identified as Ain Karim near Jerusalem. Where the New American Bible has "thereupon," which, it should be noted, means according to the best English dictionaries, forthwith and right away, that is, not any sequence but a practically immediate sequence, the venerable King James gives a literal rendering, "in those days," of the Greek. But since King James it has been learned that "in those days" is a Lukean idiom demanding an idiomatic rendering. As for Mary's "proceeding in haste," the Greek spoudazein leaves no room for any slowness or tarrying. What St. Luke says implies therefore that at most a few days after the Angel's visit to her, Mary was on the road. Since quite possibly she traveled on a donkey, the less than a hundred miles from Nazareth to Ain Karim could not have taken her more than ten days.
Needless to say, Mary could not notify Elizabeth in advance. Nor was she in a state of mind to do so. Possibly she spoke to Joseph, but this is not likely. The latter seemed to have learned of Mary's being pregnant only after her return to Nazareth three months later. Why did Mary proceed in haste? Some rationalist commentators, always emphasizing run-of-the-mill psychology, insisted that Mary wanted to know for sure whether she was pregnant. She could only be sure through observing herself for another two months at least, the amount of time needed for the absence of two successive menstruations. But she could easily verify whether the aged Elizabeth, barren until then, was truly in her sixth month and gain thereby assurance that the Angel's words to her could also be trusted.
Of course Mary was anything but a doubter like Zacharias. The latter was reproved by the angel and lost his speech for disbelief. Quite different was Mary's visit by the angel who, though very authoritative in regard to Zacharias, was most respectful toward one who was "highly favored." The angel knew that since belief and grace went hand in hand, full belief was inseparable from the fulness of grace. At any rate, Mary rose forthwith, proceeded in haste, and was to experience on arrival another visitation from on High. For before she had said a word to Elizabeth, the latter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, greeted her as "the Mother of my Lord," or "the Mother of my Messiah," as most modern commentators would add.
In that greeting by Elizabeth the attention of commentators has almost invariably focused on "my Lord." No commensurate attention has been given to the fact that Elizabeth, through divine inspiration, recognized Mary as a mother, that is, one with child. That the child was the Messiah is, of course, an important. But no less important should seem the fact that the Messiah was at that time but a fetus of at most two weeks old, not much bigger than a pinhead. That fetus, which is but a cinch for modern medical techniques to wash out from the womb, that is, to abort, was the Messiah because in addition to being the Son of God, it was also a full human being. So it was recognized by the six-month-old fetus, the still-to-be-born John the Baptist, jumping with joy in Elizabeth's womb. A lucky John, whom our Supreme Court (though not the widespread medical practice) might have protected. As for the Messiah, only a two-week-old fetus, he would not have been granted any protection by that august Court of ours, or by any such Court in any country in a world that proudly considers itself civilized.
Perhaps one day, once that concrete teaching of the fetus-Jesus has shaped popular consciousness, there may develop a greater consciousness of the Feast of the Visitation. By advancing that Feast from July 2 to May 31, the Church wanted to achieve two objectives. One, a more obvious, was the upgrading of the Feast by turning it into the crowning of the month devoted to Mary. The other objective, less obvious, was the bringing closer in the Liturgical Year the Visitation to the Annunciation. If it were not for the usual closeness of March 25 to the Holy Week, it might not be impracticable to make the Visitation the octave of Annunciation. This would provide another stunning seal of the Church's respect for any and all foetus as a truly human being. But even as it stands, the Feast of the Visitation powerfully translates the principle of legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi and should thereby serve as a strong guidance in an agonizing confrontation. Of course, what happened at the Annunciation is a far greater fact than the visit made in virtue of the fact. But the actual human recognition of that fact came only with the visitation of Christ to John the Baptist, the visit of the Creator become-a-mere-fetus to the greatest of mere human fetuses ever alive in a woman's womb.
Medical science provides more and more gripping details about the fertilized ovum's quick attachment to the mother's body in a most extraordinary symbiosis of two living beings. Yet its evidences shall never become as plain and as succinct as the word "thereupon" which occurs in a most crucial point of biblical salvation history. There that word found a far more exalted purpose than to serve masters of language, however noble, such as Alexander Pope and far lesser figures in whose hands language is rapidly deteriorating to the art of how to evade issues. On being called in, so the story goes, by George II, the famed poet was threatened with the alternative: "Mr. Pope, either you produce a pun right here and now, or you shall lose your head." "Thereupon" (forthwith, right away) the poet replied with feigned apprehension: "Your Majesty? A pun? What a pun [upon]?" Needless to say, Pope did not lose his head. But Pro-Lifers may lose their heart. The state of mind of Americans being what it is, a new law on abortion (much less a constitutional amendment) is hardly a likelihood. On seeing themselves foiled in their activist strategy, however praiseworthy, Pro-Lifers may soon begin to shake their heads in despair. They will be spared if their eyes be riveted on Elizabeth's words to Mary.
[SLJ "Christ, Catholics and Abortion" in Catholic Essays]