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The Magnificat: Mary's Psalm
The Magnificat. placed by Luke in the first chapter of his gospel, comes to us from the heart of the primitive Church and from Mary herself. Both the first Christians and Mary drew their inspiration for it from the psalms (called in Hebrew: Tehillim: Praises) and on the Canticle of Hannah. whose song of gratitude is recorded in I Sam 2:1-10. We need to re-read this canticle in order to feel the unity which exists between these verses and those placed by Luke on Mary's lips. We find at least eighteen parallels in Scripture.
We shall read the beginning of the Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
Bless the Lord, 0 my soul!
0 Lord my God, thou art very great!
Bless the Lord, 0 my soul;
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
To the praise which Elizabeth addressed to her:
Blessed are you among women (Lk 1:42).
Mary replied by her joyful psalm, a psalm filled with love of the Name of God which refers everything to him and sees how he bends towards the poor and the humble. Let us sing this song with her and in the Church, because if Mary is the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Church can be seen also in this role, since it is always forming within it the body of Christ.
The Praise and Greatness of God
What does My soul magnifies the Lord (Lk 1:46) mean? My soul praises the greatness of God. praises his magnificence.
Together with the following verses of the Magnificat, we are invited to reflect also on the text which accompanies each line:
He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
I Sam 1:11
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me.
Judith 13:14,17; 15:10
and holy is his name (Lk 1:48-49).
Pss 111:9; 103:1.
In these opening verses of the Magnificat. God is referred to in five different ways:
The Lord: The God of lovingkindness who visits his people.
God: The Creator who acts justly.
Saviour: The Lord's saving acts throughout history.
He who is mighty: Nothing is impossible to him.
He wnose name is holy: He who sanctifies those who draw near to him.
Mary describes the Lord as he who:
has regarded the low estate... He who is so great stoops down to her who is so little and to her community which extends to all generations.
has done great things; His goodness is active, it is with us.
Both Mary and the newly-born Church define themselves in relation to him who unveils his plan for them. Mary is joyful, singing with all her heart. She is his handmaiden, ready to listen to him and do what he wants. She is blessed, chosen, she in whom the Holy One has placed his joy.
The Lord's Action is Just and Liberating
And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation (Lk 1:50).
Behold he is coming! What Mary tells us enables us to recognize his action, We need to look around us and learn what he is doing. Those who fear him: This means that the love of God is faithful to all generations for those who adore him and respect him, that is to say, those who recognize him as Lord. How can we express these sentiments by our bodily gestures — our hands, our facial expressions, our postures? The first of the Ten Words puts it thus:
"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,
You shall have no other gods before me" (Ex 20:2-3).
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
II Sam 22:28
he has put down the mighty from their thrones, Ps 147:6
and exalted those of low degree;
I Sam 2:7
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away (Lk 1:51-53).
I Sam 2:5
God wants to accomplish for the little ones of this world, and for each one of us, the same things he accomplished in Mary. This is the Good News for everyone. Each one can become a liberator with his Lord if this Lord finds in him or her a poor heart, a person who is little and humble in his presence. This is the sign of the kingdom which is to come. God invites us all to change our hearts. Who are these little ones? They are those whom we forget, whom we leave to one side, who cannot speak for themselves, who need the help of others. On seeing these things at work in the world, Mary sings her song of joy:
My soul magnifies the Lord...
The Fidelity of God's Love for His People Israel and for Us
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
Mic 7:20 Gen 12:3
to Abraham and his posterity forever (Lk V54-55).
Gen 17:7; 18:8; 22:17
The word Israel identifies the people of God; the prophets call the people of Israel Daughter of Zion, Daughter of Jerusalem (Zeph 3:14-17; Zech 2:10; 9:9). Through Mary's identification with her people, the title: Daughter of Zion may be applied fittingly to her. She sings her confidence in the love of God for the people whom he chose with an everlasting love. In stooping down to Mary, he has helped his servant, Israel.
Mary's psalm or canticle may be sung on each of her feasts and, indeed, on any happy occasion. Through this song, then, we recall that Mary, the young Jewish woman, is identified with her people as she proclaims her gratitude for the long history of love between God and Israel.
Through this same song the Church acknowledges that she belongs to Abraham's spiritual family. Grafted onto this holy root, she thanks the Lord for the marvels he continues to work for her elder brother, as for all those who fear him.
* Sr. Marie-Helene Fournier, N.D.S. is Directress of the EM Shalom Documentation Service for Jewish-Christian Relations, Brussels. She has had a long experience as a catechist.