My Spirit Rejoices: A Commentary on the Magnificat

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Our God is a God of music. He does not sit in his high and noble tower, eternally contemplating his own existence, as some philosophers have hypothesized. He is, rather, always engaged in the drama of his own glory, bursting into the human world with shards of joy that inspire souls to sing out in praise and joy. Many Christians have benefited from these inspired hymns down through the ages, and one of the most famous is the Magnificat, the song that came from the lips of the Virgin Mary to her cousin.

This song has come to us in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1, and is part of the Daily Office’s set of Evening Prayer canticles. It provides a small glimpse into Mary’s life: what she was thinking during this time, what her faith in God looked like, and what she believed the conception of her Son meant. It is key that this is not a simple nursery rhyme: C.S. Lewis notes how this song is full of language showing us that our Lord’s home was not a quaint existence of delicate chanting but rather one in which the Psalms, in all their vigor, were well known and internalized.[1]

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The following text of the Magnificat is taken from the 2019 Book of Common Prayer and is interspersed with reflections and thoughts.

A Soul’s Savior

My soul magnifies the Lord, *
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
For he has regarded *
the lowliness of his handmaiden.

Mary sings her song in typical Hebrew parallelism. In this form of poetry, the second phrase of the couplet expands or explains the first half. It is easy to see this in the opening section here: Mary praises her God and Savior because he has seen her low estate. Many truths are packed into these opening lines. I want to pull out just a few for our contemplation.

First, there is the personal nature of Mary’s relationship to the Lord. Mary confesses praise to “my Savior,” not just “a god out there in the Great Beyond.” This God is Mary’s God, and He has interacted with her in a personal and unique way.

Second, Mary confesses that this personal God is her “Savior.” Some Christian traditions maintain that Mary was born without the stain of original sin and remained sinless throughout her entire life. I find that idea hard to square with her own simple confession here: to have a Savior implies that one needs saving. Mary, chosen by God to bring His Son into the world and thus properly named the Theotokos (lit. “God-bearer,” sometimes rendered “Mother of God”), was in need of her Son’s salvation in time just as the rest of us. She joins us in that wondrous confession, even as she continues to worship God for giving her such a unique role.

A Blessed Baby

For behold, from now on, *
all generations will call me blessed;
For he that is mighty has magnified me, *
and holy is his Name.

Modern Protestants, despite the high Mariology of some of the Magisterial Reformers, have often had an understandable aversion to giving the Blessed Virgin titles. The desire stems from a good and worthy impulse: we are aware that our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brethren have elevated Mary to a position that we would see as close to idolatrous: both Protestants and the Early Church would raise serious problems at praying, bowing, and highly referencing a human, even one as wondrous as the Theotokos. What should not bother any Christians is the idea that Mary, due to God’s glorious plan, was and always will be one whom God highly blessed.

We must ponder this glorious truth. This young woman, perhaps not even twenty years of age, was blessed to bear God in her womb. She held in her body the one who held up the stars. She bore he who bears our sins. She nursed the Word through whom the universe was made. The founder of the Church played in her lap. If our aversion to Mary causes us to neglect this truth, if our aversion to idolatry forces us to stop gazing at Mary and see the wondrous mystery of the Incarnation, then we have let our fear rob us of the joyous contemplation.

A Conquering King

And his mercy is on those who fear him, *
throughout all generations.
He has shown the strength of his arm; *
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has exalted the humble and meek.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent empty away.

Here, we see C.S. Lewis’ comment come to life. The Blessed Mother confesses that her Savior has overthrown his enemies: he has brought down the proud, defeated the mighty, lifted up the humble, fed the hungry, and left the rich destitute. This is not the simple nursery rhyme we would often associate with pictures of the Madonna, to use another Lewis analogy. Mary certainly knew the prophecies of the Messiah and was steeped in them, particularly in the promises of the Psalter.

Note how, for Mary, the conquest of God’s enemies has already happened. The proud are, right now, cast down; God has scattered the wicked; he has sent away the rich. This is nothing else but faith in the cataclysmic event she is undergoing: she knows that the Son in her womb is the victorious King, the one who sits upon God’s throne in Daniel 7, who receives an eternal Kingdom. She understands that those who do not “kiss the son” will “perish in the way” (Psalm 2).

A Promised Provision

He, remembering his mercy, has helped his servant Israel, *
as he promised to our fathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.

Mary also knows that God, above all things, is faithful to his people. He promised Adam and his wife their seed would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). He told Abraham that his seed would inherit a land (Gen. 12). Mary now confesses that this seed has come: the one God promised in his infinite mercy has arrived, just as God said he would. It is no wonder the Church has used this Song in her hymn book since the earliest days. It is truly magnificent.


[1] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, Harcourt, Brace, New York, (1964)

Image: Visitation by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1491). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Published on

October 17, 2023

Author

James Hodges

James Hodges, of Ridgeway, VA, is a Kindergarten Teacher in the local public school system and teaches the Junior Church in his local congregation. He is husband to Anna and father to Lilabet.

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