The Magnificat

The Gospel reading for today’s feast of the Assumption is Luke’s account of the Visitation, which ends with the words of Mary we know as the Magnificat or the Song of Mary.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good thing and sent the rich away empty. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, to remember his promise of mercy, The promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children for ever.”

Father Robert Maloney, C.M., wrote this about Mary’s words: “The historical Mary experienced poverty, oppression, violence and execution of her son. Her faith is deeply rooted in that context. Before the omnipotent God, she recognizes her own ‘lowly estate.’ She is not among the world’s powerful. She is simply God’s ‘maidservant.’ But she believes that nothing is impossible for God. In the Magnificat she sings confidently that God rescues life from death, joy from sorrow, light from darkness.”

In a similar vein, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis, spoke these words in a sermon during Advent 1933: “The Song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here. This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”

What does Mary’s Magnificant mean for us today? Look at our world. Read the newspaper and what do you see? War. Poverty. Starvation. Violence.

Mary’s Magnificat is a message of hope, a message the world so desperately needs: the message that God is still at work, even in the midst of all of this. The Magnificat promises that changes can and will happen with God at the heart of those longing and working for a more just world.

But this hope is not just a sit back and wait hope. In a world where we can easily become numb to the endless violence, poverty and war that fill the daily news, Mary’s song reminds us that we can never ignore the suffering of others if we are to be true disciples of Jesus. In the increasingly individualistic world in which we live, where there sometimes seems to be less and less willingness to reach out to others, Mary’s proclamation stands as a testimony to solidarity with the marginalized and the powerless. It calls us not to passive hope, but to action.