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Speaking to the Soul: Magnificat

Speaking to the Soul: Magnificat

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ 

And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.  – Luke 1:46-56

The song of Mary, the Magnificat, has traditionally been one of the great prayers of the church since about 500AD. Spoken, chanted, or sung as part of the evening prayers or vespers, it has been treasured by ordinary people and made into exquisite pieces of music by many of the world’s greatest composers of the past and present.

The Magnificat or Canticle of Mary as it is sometimes called, reminds us of the song of Hannah, who praised God for fulfilling her deepest longing for a child even though she was growing old and hope had almost died. It would take a miracle and Hannah asked for that miracle. Mary didn’t ask but rather was herself asked in part of another favorite prayer of the church, “Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women.”

Mary’s song glorifies God for what God is doing in her life. She wasn’t rich or famous but rather a simple, modest, obedient young woman who was betrothed but not yet married. As she was greeted by her cousin Elizabeth, Mary responded with her canticle. She acknowledged that she had been honored by God and that through her miraculously-conceived child, she herself would be considered blessed by generations to come. But then her song takes a different turn; it expresses thanksgiving on behalf of Israel for choosing them and protecting them, chastising the oppressors and exalting the poor and marginalized. Even though Israel was under the hand of the Romans, God was still with them.

No matter how bad things seem to be, God is still with us. Mary’s quiet confidence in God’s mercy and gift to the world, through her, replaced any questioning or confusion she might have initially felt. It would be for us too, if we opened ourselves to it. Perhaps this Advent we could write our own Magnificat, praising God for God’s blessings to us and those around us. It might be a reminder of past blessings and an eye-opening exercise that could make room for awareness of God’s presence and care. “My soul blesses the Lord who has done great things for me…”

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

The icon of the Annunciation was written by Laura Fisher Smith and is greatly loved by the community of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Scottsdale, Arizona. Image used with permission.

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