This article first appeared in the March 2017 issues of our parish magazine.
The text of the Magnificat, or the Canticle of Mary, is taken directly from Luke 1 46:55. The words were spoken by Mary, pregnant with Jesus, to her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with the child that would become John the Baptist.
There are many translations from the original; this is the ICET version:
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,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
My favourite setting of the Magnificat is “Tell Out My Soul“, which is hymn 631 in Hymns Old and New. It is such a favourite, that it was one of the hymns at my wedding! I have chosen to write about the Magnificat this month for two reasons: firstly, this month we will celebrate the annunciation, and secondly, this month we also celebrate Mothering Sunday – and Mary was specifically chosen to be mother of Jesus.
During Advent 2016 Carol O prepared a powerful quiet afternoon for us, during which we were invited to reflect on Mary’s “yes”. Not for the first time, I pondered whether, in her position, I would have had the strength and faith to say “yes” as she did. It can’t have been easy. She was a young teenager in an orthodox Jewish family, betrothed but not married. Tongues would wag, fingers would be pointed, her own parents may well have considered disowning her – Joseph certainly did. And yet, with the free will that God gives each and every one of us, she said “yes”. What if she had said “no”? Would we even be aware of her existence? Would we revere someone else entirely as Mother of God? Had other girls already been asked, only to say “no”? But Mary said “yes”, and rejoiced in her decision.
Faith is not easy – certainly not faith as strong as Mary’s. We are all challenged along our faith journeys, and each challenge is an opportunity to develop and deepen our faith. A memorable challenge to my faith happened a couple of years ago at work. I had recently gained my PhD, and a colleague couldn’t understand how such an intelligent woman with scientific qualifications could possibly believe in something so extravagant with not a shred of evidence. That disclosed my colleague’s fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of faith: it is a deep and secure trust in Truth without evidence; something Jesus’ disciple Thomas lacked, but that Mary had in spades. Let her inspire you to let your soul tell out the greatness of the Lord.