(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
This Sunday, we stop in the middle of the summer to honour Mary, model of faith. We have heard many times the account of the angel Gabriel, sent by God to announce the role God wants Mary to play in the Plan. We know that after the angel's departure, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth who is also expecting a baby even though she is old and has never had a child previously. We do not hear details about Mary's journey from Galilee, but we know it takes several days. All the while, Mary must be pondering what is happening inside of her. In the Gospel for this Sunday, after she arrives at Elizabeth's home, we get to hear what Mary has been pondering.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
We do not hear Mary speak. We do not hear her words. But oh, do we see the effect! A child and his mother are filled with Knowledge that could only come from God. Elizabeth exclaims with Wonder and Awe. The child leaps for Joy. The Spirit of God is on the move and at work, all at the sound of Mary's greeting.
And then, after this, we finally hear Mary speak:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour...
This is not just speech; this is prayer. We are hearing Mary pray. Is she asking God for something? Is she thanking God for something? No. Instead, she is lifting up her soul and spirit to God. This is a prayer of adoration and of praise.
Mary says her soul "magnifies" the Lord. The Greek word that St. Luke records here is megalunó which means "to make or declare great." Mary's soul declares that God is great. All that she is--every part of her from the hair on her head to her baby toes--is full of joy. She offers it all to God, to the one who saves her.
Why this outpouring of adoration and praise? At first, Mary does not say why. This is the nature of this type of prayer. Adoration declares that God is great; praise gives glory to God for all that God is before ever saying why. It is simply an outpouring of the soul. We are hearing Mary's soul poured out for God.
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.
Here we are beginning to hear why Mary is so full of praise and adoration, but her focus is mainly on the contrast between the mightiness of God and her own smallness or lowliness. This is true humility. People who have true humility are quite aware of how little or needy or sinful they are, but they keep their eyes firmly on the One who is Great and Good and Generous--on the One who is Holy.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
Is Mary afraid of God? Oh no. This is Fear of the Lord. It is Wonder and Awe. This is a soul dancing before God.
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.
Mary shows that she knows who God is. She knows what the Plan of God is. She has meditated on scripture and she knows how God acts. Mary has been hungry and has been filled with God. Mary has been lowly and overlooked but has been lifted up; she has been given a role in God's Plan. Mary has been shown the strength of God; it is magnifying within her even as she prays.
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 forever.”
In remembrance of his mercy? Does God have to be reminded of mercy? No. Mary knows scripture, she knows the covenant that God made with Abraham. In making a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, God promises:
“in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God has already looked with mercy upon Abraham and his descendants, but for Mary it is no longer just a story in scripture. Mary has now experienced God's mercy in action. Mercy is gift poured out on one who cannot pay for it. The One so Great and so Good has been Generous to Mary, and through her and her Son, to all the families of the earth. Mary has witnessed the outpouring of God's gift in her life. It is even now magnifying within her womb.
This is what Mary has been pondering ever since she said yes to the angel Gabriel. This is what has bubbled up within her soul in response to the gift of God.
This is why Mary is the model of faith for us.
Mary's prayer of adoration and praise is called "The Magnificat" for that Greek word megalunó. It is prayed by Catholics all over the world as part of evening prayer. We can also model our own private personal prayer after the Magnificat. How would we begin?
We would have to start by pondering the gift of mercy, the action of God in our lives.
We would have to consider our own lowliness, but keep our gaze firmly on God.
And then we would begin to pour out our soul, magnifying the Lord.