‘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 Elizabeth for about three months and then returned to her home.
Every service of Evensong or Evening Prayer contains the words of Mary’s great hymn of praise, the Magnificat, just as every service of Matins or Morning Prayer should contain the words of Zechariah’s song which we know as the Benedictus. Both of these passages have been set to great music by innumerable composers down the ages. Some settings are grand and triumphant, while others are simpler and more contemplative. Whether these words are sung or said, their daily recitation is important because they stand as a constant reminder of all that God did for humanity when Jesus came into this world in the form of a baby, born in a stable, some two thousand years ago.
Mary’s great song of praise can be compared to that of Hannah, which we read at the beginning of the second chapter of the first book of Samuel. Hannah, like Mary and Elizabeth, gave birth to a son in miraculous circumstances. Her son was Samuel, and her song of praise came as she offered her new-born son to a life of service to God. Mary would have known Hannah’s song, which is evident in the similarities we find between the two texts. However, we must not view the Magnificat as a mere repetition of the earlier text. The Magnificat is different even though both songs are prophetic in the way they look forward to the rule of the two sons at the beginning of new ages in the history of humanity.
Hannah’s song of praise looks forward to the rule of Samuel, who will pray for, and be blessed with great wisdom. Mary’s song of praise looks forward to the reign of Jesus, the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah. Hannah rejoices in the Lord’s gift to her and to the nation of Israel; Mary rejoices in something much bigger than that. Mary’s song of praise marks the beginning of the universal reign of God over the whole world, for the whole of time.
Every day, at Evensong or Evening Prayer, we join in saying, with Mary: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. For Mary this was a profound statement of faith. What is it for us? Is it just a wonderful text that we repeat out of a sense of duty? Or, is it a daily reminder of the profound nature of our faith? Is it a text we like to hear sung to beautiful and varied music, or is it a prayer that constantly reminds us of all that God has done for us?
Mary used the words of scripture as the basis for the outpouring of her joy at being chosen by God. Let us pray that we might use these words as the basis for our own expression of commitment and faith, because we know that God has also chosen us.