MAY is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season—
Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour?
All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good,
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.
This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.
-Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins
My soul doth magnify the Lord
Every day ought to be Mother's Day. This is not just a viewpoint found among florists and chocolate merchants and the excessively sentimental. It is a simple fact of biology. Yes, I know that fathers are part of the process but our fathers did not carry us in their bodies as our mothers did. We owe our mothers a debt which cannot be satisfied one day a year; it is a debt to be repaid every day of our life. It is also the attitude of the Church. Every day or maybe I should say, every evening, is Mother's Day. Mary, the Mother of Jesus is honored every single day in the Church’s Evening Prayer with her song, the Magnificat. Devotion to Our Lady can take many forms, the Angelus, the Rosary, the keeping of her feasts. But without doubt the most universal, the least controversial, and the most significant is that every evening Christians borrow those words of Mary and make them our own.
The Magnificat proclaims Mary’s joy at the meeting with Elizabeth, her cousin who was also pregnant. The cause of the joy is that Elizabeth has verified the words of the Angel. “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” It is in a sense something we have seen hundreds of times: two pregnant women meet each other and there is immediate kind of understanding between the two. But what follows is wholly unexpected, however many times we may have said the Magnificat.
Mary sings more than she can possibly know; she sings what she believes. The wonder, if I may say so, is in the grammar. The central part of the hymn consists of a series of verbs in the past tense:
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath. These verbs indicate actions which have already happened. But when Mary spoke these words, the proud were not being scattered, the mighty unseated, the hungry had not been filled with good things, Jesus had not yet proclaimed how blessed are the poor. Still Mary rejoices in God her Savior. But so confident is she that God will do these things that she believes they have already happened. It is not surprising that she speaks in the end of Abraham ‘our father in the faith’ – for what Abraham is to the Old Covenant Mary is to the New.
A second peculiarity about the Magnificat is that it begins with reference to Mary alone: “My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden. For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath magnified me”. It is Mary the individual speaking of herself and her destiny. Nevertheless the canticle, so individualistic at the beginning, ends with a reference to all the people: “He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed forever”.
Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, whose glorious destiny is sung in this hymn becomes ‘the servant
of the Lord’ that is, of all of us, who in union with her faith, are children of Abraham. The Father of the Faith yields to the Mother of the Church, as Jesus from the Cross says to John: “behold thy Mother.”
The Magnificat more than any other Marian prayer is the prayer of the whole Church and speaks to all Christians of the new creation, reconciled in peace with God and so reminds us to magnify our prayers, to make our prayers bigger, to pray for all humanity, that the whole world may realize the promise of God’s mercy, as he promised to Abraham and his seed forever.
My soul doth magnify the Lord.