Mary Sings the Praises of God's Mercy

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

In the ‘Magnificat’, the Blessed Virgin proclaims the greatness of God who called her, his humble handmaid, to be the Mother of his Incarnate Son

At the General Audience of Wednesday, 6 November, the Holy Father returned to his catechesis on the Virgin Mary with a reflection on her song known as the Magnificat. "With her wise reading of history, Mary leads us to discover the criteria of God's mysterious action. Overturning the judgements of the world, he comes to the aid of the poor and lowly", the Pope said, pointing out that it is humility of heart which the Lord finds especially attractive. Here is a translation of the Holy Father's catechesis, which was the 35th in the series on the Blessed Virgin and was given in Italian.

1. Inspired by the Old Testament tradition, with the song of the Magnificat Mary celebrates the marvels God worked in her. This song is the Virgin's response to the mystery of the Annunciation: the angel had invited her to rejoice and Mary now expresses the exultation of her spirit in God her Saviour. Her joy flows from the personal experience of God's looking with kindness upon her, a poor creature with no historical influence.

The word Magnificat,the Latin version of a Greek word with the same meaning, celebrates the greatness of God, who reveals his omnipotence through the angel's message, surpassing the expectations and hopes of the people of the Covenant, and even the noblest aspirations of the human soul.

He who is mighty has done great things for me

In the presence of the powerful and merciful Lord, Mary expresses her own sense of lowliness: "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden" (Lk 1:47-48). The Greek word "tapeínosis" is probably borrowed from the song of Hannah, Samuel's mother. It calls attention to the "humiliation" and "misery" of a barren woman (cf. 1 Sam 1: 11), who confides her pain to the Lord. With a similar expression, Mary makes known her situation of poverty and her awareness of being little before God, who by a free decision looked upon her, a humble girl from Nazareth and called her to become the Mother of the Messiah.

2. The words "henceforth all generations will call me blessed" (Lk 1:48) arise from the fact that Elizabeth was the first to proclaim Mary "blessed" (Lk 1:45). Not without daring, the song predicts that this same proclamation will be extended and increased with relentless momentum, At the same time, it testifies to the special veneration for the Mother of Jesus which has been present in the Christian community from the very first century. The Magnificat isthe first fruit of the various forms of devotion, passed on from one generation to the next, in which the Church has expressed her love for the Virgin of Nazareth.

3. "For he who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is his name, And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation" (Lk 1:49-50).

What are the "great things" that the Almighty accomplished in Mary? The expression recurs in the Old Testament to indicate the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt or Babylon. In the Magnificat,it refers to the mysterious event of Jesus' virginal conception, which occurred in Nazareth after the angel's announcement.

In the Magnificat,a truly theological song because it reveals the experience Mary had of God's looking upon her, God is not only the Almighty to whom nothing is impossible, as Gabriel had declared (cf. Lk 1:37), but also the Merciful, capable of tenderness and fidelity towards every human being.

4. "He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away" (Lk 1: 51-53).

With her wise reading of history, Mary leads us to discover the criteria of God's mysterious action. Overturning the judgements of the world, he comes to the aid of the poor and lowly, to the detriment of the rich and powerful, and in a surprising way he fills with good things the humble who entrust their lives to him (cf. Redemptoris Mater, n. 37).

While these words of the song show us Mary as a concrete and sublime model, they give us to understand that it is especially humility of heart which attracts God's kindness.

God fulfils his promises in Mary with abundant generosity

5. Lastly, the song exalts the fulfilment of God's promises and his fidelity to the chosen people: "He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever" (Lk 1:54-55).

Filled with divine gifts, Mary does not limit her vision to her own personal case, but realizes how these gifts show forth God's mercy towards all his people. In her, God fulfils his promises with a superabundance of fidelity and generosity.

Inspired by the Old Testament and by the spirituality of the daughter of Zion, the Magnificat surpasses the prophetic texts on which it is based, revealing in her who is "full of grace" the beginning of a divine intervention which far exceeds Israel's messianic hopes: the holy mystery of the Incarnation of the Word.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
13 November 1996, page 11

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