By Jean M. Heimann
November 5 is the feast of St. Elizabeth and St. Zachary, the parents of St. John the Baptist, the last and the most impressive of the prophets and the precursor of Our Lord.
The name Elizabeth in Hebrew means "worshipper of God." St. Elizabeth was the wife of Zachary, the mother of John the Baptist, and the cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was to her that the Blessed Virgin Mary went in haste after she had conceived Jesus, and after she learned that Elizabeth had conceived St. John the Baptist.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me” (Luke 1:42 – 43)? When Elizabeth spoke these words, she was given the gift of prophecy (the gift of speaking God’s word at the appropriate moment), and it is through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, she uttered these words that confirmed that Mary is the Mother of God. Mary greeted Elizabeth, and as soon as she did this, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy. Prompted by this, Elizabeth bestowed on Mary extraordinary praises that revealed Mary to be the mother of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the mother of God.
- The Virgin and Child with Saints Zacharias and John the Baptist
Saint Zachary, the husband of Saint Elizabeth, was of the tribe of Abia and a member of the priestly class. The name Zachary in Hebrew means "Jehovah has remembered.” Everything we know about Sts. Elizabeth and Zachary is found in the first chapter of Luke's gospel.
Having reached middle age without the blessing of a child, Zachary was offering incense at the altar one day when the angel Gabriel appeared to him. The angel told him that their prayer for a child would be answered. A son was to be born to them and his name was to be John. Zachary was skeptical, for both he and Elizabeth were advanced in years. He asked the angel for some sign. Because he doubted, Gabriel proclaimed that Zachary would be stricken dumb and would regain the power of speech only when the prophecy was fulfilled.
Saint Elizabeth conceived and gave birth to a son. When the child was about to be circumcised, Elizabeth told the people that he was to be named John. Zachary, unable to speak, asked for a tablet and on it he wrote the words, "John is his name." At this moment Zachary's tongue was loosed and he began to praise the Lord.
Saint Zachary was martyred in the Temple of Jerusalem by the Jews.