This post should have been part of the blog from last Monday on the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, however with last week being Final Exams week for my students and with there being limited time, I chose to move this important prayer of the Blessed Mother to this week. The Magnificat is one of the important prayers of the Church because it is recited daily (Evening Prayer) in the official prayer of the Church – The Liturgy of Hours. The Magnificat gives us beautiful images from the Old Testament readings we see in the Psalms, Sirach, and Habakkuk. It is also the prayer that mirrors Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2.
Please read them both fully and then we will proceed with the explanation of both scripture passages. Bolded are similarities between the two passages.
Hannah’s Prayer – 1 Samuel 2:1-10
“My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides you; there is no rock like God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to be hungry. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exults. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the need from the dung heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful ones; but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”
Mary’s Magnificat – Luke 1:46-56
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he had regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for has done great things for me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with him arm, he has scattered the proud in their imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree, he has filled the hungry with good things, and rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”
Being a faithful and obedient Jewish woman, Mary would have know Hannah’s prayer by memorization. For the Jews, memorizing the Scriptures was of utmost importance. Modern Biblical Scholarship will try to say that St. Luke found the Magnificat prayer and placed it in his Gospel to bring balance and support his account. However, this brings scandal to the words of our Blessed Mother and her ability to give praise and honor to God Almighty. It really makes me upset when I hear people state that Mary would have never recited this words. It shows complete and total ignorance on their part for they clearly don’t understand the importance of Mary’s role in Salvation History.
When we read both of these prayers, there are obvious similarities. The very first lines of both passages speak of the Lord exulting and magnifying as well as spirit and strength. Both passages speak of how the Lord gives strength to the spirit and lifts up the heart and soul. Further along in both passages, we see how God strikes down his adversaries who are the mighty and the proud and raises up those of low degree (the poor). Both passages also speak of how the Lord will exalt his anointed and remember the mercy that he conveyed upon Abraham and other covenant mediators (David was called “anointed” – also known as Messiah). Lastly, both passages speak of filling the hungry with good things. The good things could be understood as gifts from God.
Now I want to explain what some of the verses mean in the Magnificat itself:
- Luke 1:48 – “all generations will call me blessed” speaks of the royal role that Mary will play throughout Salvation History. Let us not forget that Mary is the Queen Mother of the NEW Davidic King, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the New David and Royal High Priest.
- Luke 1:49 – “for he who is mighty has done great things for me” is Mary sharing for the first time God’s primary revelation as well as this new “self-giving” of God. These words spoken by Mary, mirrors her overwhelming joy that she has experienced through God (Redemptoris Mater – Mother of the Redeemer, Blessed John Paul II).
- Luke 1:50 & 54 – speaks of the term mercy. The term mercy means hesed, a Hebrew word that is defined as covenant fidelity. In Greek, it means eleos (Kyrie elesion – “Lord have mercy”). Covenant fidelity is what God establishes with the Old Testament mediators (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the Prophets and David) when he forms a covenant with them. Jesus Christ would be the fulfillment of these covenants and then establish a NEW Covenant in Luke 22 at the Last Supper. A covenant is extension of kinship by oath. So when Mary says “And his mercy is on those who fear him” and “in remembrance of his mercy” she is really saying that God will remain faithful to the covenants he formed with Abraham and other mediators as well. (Read Zechariah’s Prophecy – Luke 1:68-79 and Psalm 51 and insert the term hesed – covenant fidelity and watch how the whole scripture passage becomes clearer).
- Luke 1:48 & 52 – “for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” and “exalted those of low degree” simply means that Mary is poor. Her poverty reflects the Church’s mission of serving the poor and it shows the important emphasis the Church places on those of low degree. The Catholic Church today is the world’s leader in serving the poor despite what others claim. Blessed John Paul II in Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer) said, “Mary is deeply imbued with the spirit of the “poor of Yahweh,” who in the prayer of the psalms awaited from God their salvation…Mary truly proclaims the coming of the “messiah of the poor.”” God’s love for the poor would be fulfilled in the words of Jesus Christ.
As we have seen, the Virgin’s Magnificat is important and an essential prayer that lives in the Church yesterday, today, and forever. It is a prayer that every Bible believing Christian should know and recite often.
In the document, Marialis Cultus – For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Paul VI says, “this prayer is the Magnificat (cf. Lk 1:46-55), Mary’s prayer par excellence, the song of the messianic times in which there mingles the joy of the ancient and the new Israel. As St. Irenaeus seems to suggest, it is in Mary’s canticle that there was heard once more the rejoicing of Abraham who foresaw the Messiah (cf. Jn 8:56), and there rang out in prophetic anticipation the voice of the Church: “In her exultation Mary prophetically declared in the name of the Church: ‘My soul proclaims the glory of the Lord…’” And in fact Mary’s hymn has spread far and wide and has become the prayer of the whole Church in all ages.”