THE MAGNIFICAT (Part I of IV)
“And Mary said: ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”
1. Here more than anywhere else are we able to detect the soul of Our Lady; here we have her authentic biography, coming spontaneously, almost unconsciously from her lips, and in the language with which her lips are most familiar. Secondly, this hymn, as the first hymn of the New Testament, strikes the dominant note which is to ring through the rest of time and through all eternity the note of thanksgiving, which culminates in God. The note of glorifying the past had been one of endless longing; the note of the future is that of the longing satisfied. Zachary takes it up soon after; Simeon succeeds; it rings through all the writings of St. Paul; the Gloria in excelsis [Glory to God in the Highest] is but an expansion of the canticle; so, we may say, is the whole liturgy of the Church; so should be, but perhaps is not always, the spirit underlying every prayer of every creature of God.
2. The language in which the Magnificat is enshrined is very significant. As the Angel, when announcing the Incarnation to Our Lady, used words every one of which would recall prophecies to the mind of one familiar with them, so here, one familiar with the prophecies instinctively falls back upon them in her great thanksgiving. It is as one who in ecstacy, or in absorbed prayer, instinctively makes use of those phrases and [aspirations] which linger in the mind, and which express in some way at the moment the uplifting of the heart. For the foundation of her canticle she falls back upon the canticle sung by Hannah, after the birth of her son Samuel. For her language she recalls the constant words of prophecy. For her “inspiration her mind ranges over the whole of the dealings of God with man in the way of mercy, and over the whole of the record of those dealings as contained in the inspired books.”
3. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Mary opens in the common antithetical method of Hebrew poetry, but not on that account does the second part merely repeat the meaning of the other. When she says her soul magnifies the Lord, she means that her whole being is occupied in praising, glorifying, and adoring God; when she says that her spirit rejoices in God her Jesus, she means that her spiritual understanding is turned upon the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption, and all it has meant and means to her, and that the understanding has flooded her with intense light and joy. “To magnify the Lord is to form the highest and largest conceptions of His greatness and goodness, to form those conceptions into the shape of mental and most heartfelt praise and estimation, and then to pour out this praise in whatever is open to the heart or soul.”
Summary Mediation Points:
1. Mary reveals her soul most of all in the Magnificat. In it she strikes the note for the music of all future ages: thanksgiving and glory to God.
2. She takes as her plan the canticle of Hannah; she finds her language in the prophets; her inspiration is the goodness of God to man; in all she shows where her mind has always dwelt.
3. Her whole being is engaged in praising God; her understanding of the Saviour is an ocean of joy to her.
Art: The Visitation, Jan Lievens, 1638-40, Restored Traditions, used with permission. Mirror of Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J., www.stmaryscadoganstreet.co.uk, all rights reserved, used with permission.