Luke Live! Online: Reflection on Mary’s Prayer THE MAGNIFICAT

The Canticle of Mary. 46 And Mary said:*

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

47 my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

48 For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

49 The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

50 His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.

51 He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

52 He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

53 The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,

55 according to his promise to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Now let’s take a closer look at the words of Mary’s prayer that you have just heard. Tradition identifies this prayer as “The MAGNIFICAT.” “Magnificat” is a Latin word. Its English equivalent is the word “magnifies.”  The Christian tradition translated Luke’s original Greek into Latin and from Latin into English with the phrase “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  Scholars who created the New American Bible translation chose the word “proclaims” in this context.  Thus you heard Mary say in this translation, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” Other translators coined these phrases: “My heart praises the Lord” (Good News translation), “My soul glorifies the Lord” (NIV), “My soul exalts the Lord” (New English Bible).  The Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New Revised Standard Versions (NRSV) returned to the more classic English translation “My soul magnifies the Lord” as do all of the King James versions. 

To magnify is to enlarge—i.e., to make God’s greatness more evident. The words “praise” and “proclaim” accomplish the same purpose. The more we praise God, the more opportunity for people to ponder God and God’s greatness.  Both Christians and Muslims see Mary’s willingness to conceive and give birth to Jesus as a perfect witness to God’s greatness.  Her willingness to trust God in this miraculous conception also emphasizes the importance of surrendering to God’s will.   And even though Mary is not part of the Hebrew Scriptures, her cooperation with God, which we call GRACE in this moment, concretizes her Jewish sensibilities inherent in the words of Psalm 79, verse 13: “We, your people, will give thanks to you forever; through all ages we will declare your praise.”   Also Psalm 111: 3: “Majestic and glorious is God’s work, God’s righteousness endures forever.”  Thus Mary can rightfully say, “from now on will all ages call me blessed,” and “God’s mercy is from age to age.”  Remember, Grace has an uncontainable quality that extends far beyond any one individual or group or place or time.  Indeed, many faiths and philosophies uphold that “goodness begets goodness,” ‘truth strengthens truth,” and that “love knows no boundaries.”  

In Mary’s prayer we also find affirmation of the great reversal promised in the Hebrew Scripturestraditionally called TANAKH[1]: “the poor will be exalted, the exalted humbled.” Most notably there is the Song of Hannah in the book of 1 Samuel 2: which contains phrases such as

“My heart exults in the Lord, 

my strength is exalted in my God.

 Speak boastfully no longer nor let arrogance issue from your mouths.  The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, 

while the hungry batten on spoil. 

The Lord makes poor and makes rich. He humbles, he also exults. 

He raises the needy from the dust; 

from the ash heap he lifts up the poor, to seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage.” 

Clearly the Divine Action is to reconcile peoples to their proper state of living:  a celebration of our common humanity—everyone standing before God as equals.  This is a “great reversal,” indeed, for so much of human history progressed—just as our world continues to progress—at other people’s expense.  God’s reversal through prophets and through Jesus insists that we implement checks and balances on progress for everyone’s mutual benefit.  Indeed, the biblical vision obliterates the importance of status and heritage because they distract us from the common vision that we are all one.  Ultimately, social rankings are illusions.  At the end of each and every day, everyone needs air, water, food, clothing shelter, sleep and, yes, toilet facilities.  We must not take any aspect of our humanity for granted.  The Book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: “As they came forth from their mother’s womb, so again shall they return, naked as they came, having nothing from their toil to bring with them.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:14)

When all social divisions cease, every person is as important as another.  This is humanity’s one, unifying vision: Every individual is an instrument of Providence.  Believers are invited to live daily in awe and wonder that we are able to experience life and love because of God and through God.  The Catholic liturgy proclaims God as the one “In whom we live and move and have our being.”  (This is a direct quote from the Book of Acts 17: 28.) In secular terms, gratitude for life itself breeds humility which, in turn, brings people together.   

INTRODUCTION TO AVE MARIA

         Now I invite you to collect your feelings and thoughts about THE GREAT REVERSAL, AND THE ANNUNCIATION AND VISITATIONS PASSAGES through my song meditation, Schubert’s AVE MARIA.  The words are Latin but they comprise Luke 1, verses 28 and 42.  Verse 28 recalls the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary that preceded the Visitation passage you just heard. Gabriel calls out to Mary: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” The next line of the prayer and lyric echoes Elizabeth’s words to Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  For Christians these words are an affirmation of our belief in the “Incarnation,” God entering into human history as a human being.  We’ll explore that further in subsequent tracks.  I invite listeners from other faiths to meditate on the ways your religions affirm God’s presence in the world through people of good will in all times and places. 

The song’s second verse addresses Mary as Mother of God, that is, of Jesus. Christians believe Jesus to be both fully God and fully human—the complete manifestation of God to the material world.  Both aspects of Jesus are inseparable, therefore Mary is the mother of the ONE who is both God and human. That is followed by a prayer of petition that Mary will pray for us now and at the hour of our death so that we may be with God for all eternity.   These themes also have secular counterparts that can be part of your discussion with relatives and friends who hold other faiths or maintain more secular perspectives.  

“Full of grace” is to be blessed, to be congratulated, to be filled with good news, good thoughts–to be caught up in a life-affirming enterprise.  Prayer, which comprises the second part of Hail Mary, for example, is an active expressions of HOPE in eternal life.  Its secular counterpart is the concept of horizon—a reality that can be seen or envisioned but not fully grasped because, like the horizon itself, it beckons only to recede further into space and time.  Recede though it may, the impact of horizon—magnificent sunrises and sunsets–lingers and we are able to grasp some of its energy and inspiration in the here and now.   Here then is Schubert’s AVE MARIA.  Additional commentary with questions for discussion will follow. 

 Here are links to two of my recordings of AVE MARIE -one Audio Only with Instrumental Ensemble from my CD The Gospel of Luke In Word and Song; The second is a Video with piano accompaniment by Laurence Rosania.

Latin Catholic prayer versionLiteral English Translation 
Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Maria, gratia plena,
Maria, gratia plena,
Ave, Ave, Dominus,
Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus,
Et benedictus fructus ventris (tui),
Ventris tui, Jesus.
Ave Maria!

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
Ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
Ora, ora pro nobis;
Ora, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
Nunc et in hora mortis,
In hora mortis nostrae.
In hora, hora mortis nostrae,
In hora mortis nostrae.
Ave Maria!
Hail Mary, full of grace,
Mary, full of grace,
Mary, full of grace,
Hail, Hail, the Lord
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed,
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Thy womb, Jesus.
Hail Mary!

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Pray, pray for us;
Pray for us sinners,
Now, and at the hour of our death,
The hour of our death.
The hour, the hour of our death,
The hour of our death.
Hail Mary!

For more on Schubert’s AVE MARIA, see: 

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Ave_Maria_(Schubert)


[1] I want to emphasize the Hebrew word TANAKH in sensitivity to our Jewish friends.  What Christians call “The Old Testament” is actually the writings of The First Covenant, i.e. God’s covenant with Israel—the descendants of Jacob aka Israel.  The Covenant through Jesus for Christians is truly a Second Covenant. The Jews call their books TANAKH and so we respect them by using this title rather than “Old Testament.”  Contemporary Christians affirm the validity of God’s Covenant with Israel grounded in Paul’s Letter to the Romans 11: 29 and in the Catholic Ecumenical Council known as Vatican II (1963-65) in the document NOSTRA AETATE (“In Our Time”) See

http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html  In truth the people of Christian History have been disrespectful of Judaism and contributed to anti-Semitism and violence against the Jewish people.  Yet, Judaism constitutes the very foundation of Jesus and therefore Christianity.  In that way our ancestors neglected to observe the Fourth Commandment (Catholics) aka Fifth Commandment (Orthodox Christians and Protestants): Honor your Father and your Mother. 

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