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Forty days before the Triduum, the Lenten season disposes Catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery through prayer and penitential practices.
Elizabeth and Zechariah, Parents, First Century
Our knowledge of Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, comes to us from the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel. Elizabeth and Zechariah, righteous people according to Luke, had prayed to God that they might be blessed with a child. Since Elizabeth was well past childbearing age, they might have given up hope that their prayers would ever be answered.
Zechariah was a priest in his community and at a time when he was serving in his priestly duties, the angel, Gabriel, appeared to him and told him that his prayer had been heard. The angel said, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” [Lk 1:13-15] Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” [Lk 1:18] Since he doubted Gabriel’s words, the angel told him that he would be speechless until the baby was born.
When Elizabeth was in her sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to Mary to announce the impending birth of Jesus. Gabriel said to Mary, “And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” [Lk 1:36-37] Mary set off immediately to visit her cousin, Elizabeth who greeted her with words which we use today in our prayer to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” [Lk 1:42]
Elizabeth was the first person to recognize Mary as the mother of God, “And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” [Lk 1:43] Mary remained with Elizabeth until Elizabeth’s child was born.
When the infant was born, relatives and neighbors expected him to be named Zechariah after his father, the custom of the time. Elizabeth said that he was to be named John. They then asked his father. Zechariah “asked for a tablet and wrote, ‘John is his name’.” [Lk 1:63] Immediately upon writing these words, Zechariah could speak.
Zechariah then prophesied with the beautiful Canticle of Zechariah in which he said, “And you, my child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” [Lk 1:76-77]
Elizabeth and Zechariah's message today: God knows all of our needs and answers all of our prayers, though not always at the time or in the manner of our choosing. Elizabeth and Zechariah continued to pray for a child even after they felt it impossible to become parents and God chose to bless them with the baby who was to become St. John the Baptist.