Mary’s song of praise, commonly known as “The Magnificat,” is an echo of the canticle of Hannah found in chapter two of the First Book of Samuel which is used as the responsorial for today’s liturgy. The opening verse is similar to the beginning of Mary’s song: “My heart exults in the LORD, my horn is exalted by my God.” If we lay the two canticles side by side, we will find that many of the themes of Hannah’s canticle are repeated in Mary’s. The theme of the humble being exalted and the proud being brought low will become a highlight of St. Luke’s Gospel.
We can sum up the Canticle of Mary in three words: Thankfulness, Praise, and Joy.
Mary is grateful for all that God has done for her. Yet, if we really examine this carefully, she could not have known what God has done for her at this point in her life. She knows that she has received a special vocation. While it is true that this vocation will lead her to be regarded by all of us as one of God’s most precious creations, at the time she is singing this beautiful song, everything is merely a promise.
Mary praises God for what God has done through her. Again, while we know now how important she was in God’s plan of salvation, at the time she is singing God’s praises, she has no idea what God has in store. However, the truly important part of her praise is the absence of any sense that she is the one that will accomplish God’s plan. She knows that whatever happens, it will be God’s doing, not her own.
It is also obvious that she is singing for joy. As someone who had been raised in a traditional Jewish faith, she knows what God has promised through her ancestors. The message of the angel and the validation she receives through Elizabeth’s outburst fills her with joy for God has made good on his promise.
Mary’s gratitude, her praise of God, and the joy with which she is filled should be all the greater in our lives. We know what God has done through her. We have seen the promises of God fulfilled in the life, the ministry, and the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Consequently, Mary’s song must become our song of joy. Because we pray it so often, every time we pray Evening Prayer, perhaps this song has become just a matter of routine. The question becomes whether we are grateful, whether we are full of praise and joy.
When we hear this Gospel proclaimed and when we make Mary’s song our own, it is so important for us to recall that we are called to thankfulness, praise and joy.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator