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The Feast of the Visitation is held on May 31st (May 30th in Eastern churches), which depending on the year will fall into either the Easter or Pentecost season.

It seems really strange to me that the Feast celebrating a pregnant Mary visiting a pregnant Elizabeth is celebrated at a time when the church is focused on the direct aftermath of an adult Jesus being resurrected and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Celebrating an event concerning an unborn Jesus at that time seems to distract from that, whereas it likely would not if it were held sometime later.

So why is the Feast of the Visitation held on May 31st, during the Easter/Pentecost season?

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The Wikipedia article you link to actually gives a clear explanation: quoting from the Roman Calendar, "so that it would harmonize better with the Gospel story."

From 1389, when the feast was first made universal in the Western Church, until 1969 when the most recent edit was made to the Roman Calendar, the feast was held on July 2. This is exactly 1 week (the end of the octave) after the Feast of the Nativity (Birth) of St. John the Baptist on June 24. The idea was apparently to cluster feasts relating to John the Baptist.

In 1969, the Roman Calendar was updated, and several celebrations of the Latin Rite of the Church were added, removed, or moved—this was the case with the Visitation. The entry in the Calendar's chapter "Variationes in Calendarium Romanum Inductae" ("Changes Introduced into the Roman Calendar") for July 2 reads:

In Visitatione B. M. V.
Ss. Processi et Martiniani

Festum Visitationis die 31 Maii reponitur, i.e. inter sollemnitates Annuntiationis Domini et Nativitatis S. Ioannis Baptistae, quo aptius consentiat narrationi evangelicae.

On the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Saints Processus and Martinian (i. e. these saints are celebrated instead)

The Feast of the Visitation is restored to the 31st day of May, that is between the solemnities of the Annunciation of the Lord and the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, by which [movement] it more appropriately agrees with the story of the Gospel.

(Calendarium Romanum 1969; my translation)

Pope Paul VI and his advisors seem to have had in mind the Gospel according to Luke:

The angel said to [Mary] in reply ... "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." ...

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. ... Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

(Luke 1:35, 36, 39, 56; New American Bible, Revised Edition)

We are not told exactly how long after the angel's announcement Mary set out, but traditionally the Church has held that Mary was with Elizabeth from approximately the sixth month of the pregnancy until birth; that is, from the conception of Jesus until approximately the third month of pregnancy. This would have been about six months before the birth of Jesus, or about June 25. The birth of John the Baptist is, indeed, celebrated on June 24. Any time between March 25 and June 24 would seem appropriate, but it's not clear why May 31 in particular was chosen. May 31 had been used to celebrate the Queenship of Mary, and that feast was moved to August 22, the week after the Assumption.

As a note, there is no "Pentecost season" in the Western Church. If Easter falls between March 22 (the earliest possible date) and April 11, Pentecost will fall no later than May 30, putting the Visitation in Ordinary Time (during, I believe, the 9th week of Ordinary Time). If Pentecost falls later (it can fall as late as June 14), then the feast is during the Easter Season.

  • Regarding the "Pentecost season", wouldn't that be "The Nth Sunday after Pentecost"? I know I've heard that phrase before. – Thunderforge May 31 '17 at 14:51
  • That used to be the case, until the revisions to the calendar in 1969. There was "the Nth week after Epiphany" and "the Nth week after Pentecost". But for the last forty-odd years those have been combined into a single season, "Ordinary Time". (In Latin, it's "tempus per annum" - "time throughout the year".) – Matt Gutting May 31 '17 at 14:57
  • Some Calendars use the phrase Time after Pentecost for Ordinary Time. There is no "Pentecost Season". – Ken Graham Jun 1 '17 at 11:14
  • @MattGutting There is no such thing as an "Anglican Ordinariate": we are not Anglican. And the Ordinariates' Calendar counts Sundays after Epiphany and Sundays after Trinity. The Church of England normally counts Sundays after Pentecost, although "after Trinity" is used there too, in the Book of Common Prayer calendar. – Andrew Leach Jun 1 '17 at 16:26
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In 1969 the Feast of the Visitation was moved from July 2 to May 31.

I do not desire to repeat the excellent comments in Matt Gutting's answer, so I will simply add a few points or tidbits of my own to this question.

The idea of May 31 as a date for the Feast of the Visitation is an excellent way for the Church to conclude the month of May which is traditionally known as the Month of Mary.

Prior to 1969, not everyone in the Roman Rite celebrated the Feast of the Visitation on July 2. For example the faithful of the York Rite or more accurately the York Usage of the Latin Rite celebrated it on April 2. A date that many commentators (prior to the 1969 reform of the calendar) note that "seems to agree better with the Gospel narrative than the present". - Use of York. April 2 is the day after the Octave Day of the Annunciation and July 2 is the day after the Octave Day of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Or if you wish, the day after the circumcision of St. John the Baptist. More research will show more places that celebrated the Visitation on another date than July 2 prior to Pope Paul IV's liturgical reform.

Naturally, York had its own liturgical calendar and special feasts; they are set out at length in Dr. Henderson's edition of the York Missal (pp. 259 sqq and especially p. 271). The Visitation was kept at York on 2 April, a date which seems to agree better with the Gospel narrative than the present Summertime observance. As for the colours of vestments, York is said to have used white for Christmas, Easter, Palm Sunday, and possibly for Whitsuntide, as well as on feasts of the Blessed Virgin, whilst black was used for Good Friday and blue for Advent and Septuagesima (see St. John Hope in "Trans. T. Paul's Eccles. Society", II, 268, and cf. I, 125).

It could be noted that Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Switzerland as well as those who follow the Extraordinary Rite of the Mass celebrate this feast on July 2.

A final note: Some Calendars use the phrase Time after Pentecost for Ordinary Time. There is no "Pentecost Season".

  • I note that April 2 is the day after the Octave of the Annunciation, just as July 2 is the day after the Octave of the Nativity of John the Baptist. – Matt Gutting Jun 1 '17 at 13:48
  • @MattGutting April 2 is the day after the Octave Day of the Annunciation and July 2 is the day after the Octave Day of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Moreover July 2nd is the day after the circumcision of St. John the Baptist – Ken Graham Sep 29 '18 at 11:18

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