Fourth Sunday of Advent

19 December 2021
'The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Magnificat)' by Jean Jouvenet (1644–1717). Image: Wikimedia Commons


Fourth Sunday of Advent

Readings: Micah 5:1-4; Psalm 79 (80): 2-3, 15-16, 18-19; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

19 December 2021


“God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.” – Hebrews 10:7

If Advent is about God sending his Son to save us, then the converse side of this is our response: we are called into closer union with and discipleship of Jesus—the Messiah who forgives our sins and gives us eternal life. This means that we are called to faith in Jesus and obedience to God’s will—two things which, perhaps more than anything else, are sorely lacking today (the opposite is so often the case: faith in our human selves only, and the supremacy of my will to which all else must conform, including God!)

How this contrasts with today’s second reading where the sacred writer reminds us that what is truly acceptable to God is not our sacrifices and holocausts, but a truly humble and contrite heart that obeys God’s will! Hence, Elizabeth cries out to Mary in today’s Gospel: “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45). Mary was chosen precisely for this reason: she had faith in God and obeyed his will for her life rather than her own.

This is also something that can be observed in the lives of all holy people: they submit their will to God’s will. In so doing, they become conformed to him rather than the world, and become true signs through whom others are led, not to them, but to God. Sadly today, we have too many worldly people, and not enough holy people—even in the Church.

Advent calls us to be holy people, true disciples of the Lord, who have faith in Jesus and are obedient to God’s will for our lives. May Christ be born in us this Christmas, and may we be born in Christ.

Blessed Mary, who believed that the promise made [to you] by the Lord would be fulfilled, pray for us who seek to be faithful and obedient to God’s will for our lives too. Amen.

Fr Christopher G Sarkis


Artwork Spotlight

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Magnificat) – Jean Jouvenet (1644–1717)

“The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Magnificat)” (1716) Oil on Canvas, 441 cm × 431 cm Notre-Dame de Paris, 4th arrondissement of Paris, France. Public Domain.

There is no way Jean Jouvenet could have seen the future of the painting on which he was engaged in 1716—The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Magnificat). Seven years before, a certain priest, Canon de La Porte, decided to offer the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris a set of paintings on the theme of the life of Our Lady. When he died at the age of 83 in 1710, The Visitation was unfinished. The eight paintings were completed and placed in the choir of the cathedral some years later.

The scene we are contemplating illustrates the visit of Mary, pregnant with Jesus, to her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John. Mary, accompanied by Joseph, stands on the right with the donkey of their travel. As usual, Joseph holds his travelling stick, ready to change track whenever invited by God. On the left, the priest Zachary, husband of Elizabeth, stands in the background. Elizabeth bows in reverence before the mystery present in Mary, John the Baptist rejoicing in his mother’s womb. John stands as the connection between the old world and the new.

Jouvenet does not copy the traditional meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, but rather highlights Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat. Mary raises her eyes and hands to heaven in a halo of light. In the foreground, neighbours look on in wonderment, while in the far left, the artist (a younger version) pictures himself next to Canon de La Porte, his sponsor—an ancient tradition.

When he painted The Visitation, Jouvenet was 72 years old and had suffered for three years from paralysis of his right hand following a stroke. He signed his painting on the bottom step beneath Our Lady with the words: “J. Jouvenet made this in 1716 with his left hand because his right is paralysed.” The painting was admired by his contemporaries and copied several times in the 18th century.

Following the French Revolution, the eight paintings were transferred to Versailles, three subsequently disappearing. Napoleon gave permission for the remaining five to return to Notre Dame, hung in new frames. During the restoration of the cathedral in the 1860s, the paintings were exhibited in the Louvre. Only Jouvenet’s The Visitation returned to Notre Dame in 1947. This means it was there during the devastating fire that swept the cathedral on 15 April 2019. To date, its survival is unclear.

Mary’s Magnificat is the Church’s first hymn, and its echo resounds at every moment of every day at the chanting of Vespers. It is not an original composition, but rather a reissue of Old Testament themes. If it is true that Mary spent her childhood in the Temple, then she would have been well versed in Scripture. In prophecy, she predicts the mission of the unborn Saviour. The social order will be turned on its head. The lowly will supplant the mighty, and the poor, the rich. It is in reality the first preaching of the Gospel. Its message would be repeated by her Son 30 years later in what we now call the Beatitudes.

The Magnificat is a mirror in which the Church says what she really is—God’s lowly handmaid. There she reads of the great things God has done for her down through the centuries, and there she remembers what sort of person God is: “His mercy reaches from age to age.” The Church must reflect that mercy.

Commentating on St Luke’s Gospel, St Ambrose of Milan wrote in the 4th century: “Let Mary’s soul be in each of you to glorify the Lord. Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ by faith!”

Mgr Graham Schmitzer


Fr Christopher G Sarkis is the parish priest at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Rosemeadow, NSW. He was ordained in 1985 and has served in a number of parishes in the diocese. His recent diocesan appointments include member of the College of Consultors, Council of Priests, Diocesan Finance Council and Diocesan Property Committee.

Monsignor Graham Schmitzer recently retired as the parish priest at Immaculate Conception Parish in Unanderra, NSW. He was ordained in 1969 and has served in many parishes in the Diocese of Wollongong. He was also chancellor and secretary to Bishop William Murray for 13 years. He grew up in Port Macquarie and was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph of Lochinvar. For two years he worked for the Department of Attorney General and Justice before entering St Columba’s College, Springwood, in 1962. Fr Graham loves travelling and has visited many of the major art galleries in Europe.

With thanks to the Diocese of Wollongong who have supplied the weekly Advent and Christmas 2021 reflections from their publication, Blessed – Advent & Christmas Daily Reflections 2021.


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