It’s finally May again and you know what that means: the month of Mary. The Church sets aside this month as one of special dedication to our Lady and it is often filled with special novenas, devotions and prayer sessions to our Mother. I’ve always admired the men and women who are so profoundly in love with Mother Mary that they’ve spent hours, reciting Hail Marys after Hail Marys for prayers both personal and communal. As for me, I’ve never really had much of a connection to the Queen of Heaven. Sure, as a Catholic, I would often seek her intercessions. Do I pray the Rosary? Yep. Novenas? Check. Praying the Angelus? Not as often as I would like but yes.
That said, I’ve never felt a particular connection towards this Blessed Woman. A part of this stems from the fact that I don’t see much of Mary in Gospels. There are only few instances of Mary appearing in the Bible, most prominently during the entire infancy narrative of Jesus (obviously), during His childhood and at His crucifixion. She, occasionally makes cameos in the Gospels (one of which was at a wedding!) and is referred to in the Book of Revelations. Beyond that, not much. Even the disciples had more mention in the Bible (I mean they’ve got a book in the Bible for themselves). It’s hard for me to develop a personal love for the Blessed Virgin if I hardly ever read of her.
However, whenever I stumble upon a certain prayer during Vespers or hear it being read out during Advent, I cannot help but fall in love with this Gentle Woman who bore our Saviour, the Theotokos (directly translated to God-bearer). Whenever I recite this prayer, it reminds me why generations after generations of Catholics adore this majestic Mother of ours and entrust our prayers and intercessions to her; because the Magnificat represents truly who Mary is: a humble woman, full of Grace.
“My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”
The Magnificat starts off as one would expect: an exultation of praise. But this is more than simple praise. No, this is a much deeper, more profound joy. Just reading the line gives me goosebumps because of how powerful this line is. It’s not just an emotion. This is a joy that transcends simple feelings but that stems from the very being of Mary herself; that her soul and her spirit cannot help but shout praises to God. This was a woman who loved God with all her heart, all her soul and all her mind. I expect the ecstasy of saints are but a small taste of the joy Mary experienced as she proclaims this song.
“for He has looked with favor 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.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”
AND YET, there is a sense of humility about this prayer She recognizes that through God’s mercy, she has been given the privilege of bearing the Messiah and through God, “all generations will call me blessed”. Dr Robert Stackpole of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy in America speaks of the Immaculate Conception as being the expression of the first act of the heavenly Father's mercy in Mary's regard. It is through the unmerited, undeserved and unsought Grace and Mercy of God that Mary was born without sin such that she may be exalted by the Church in her role as the Theotokos. There is no mention of her own merits, of her own piety, of her own struggles and reservations. There is only humility at being chosen with this honor. In her eyes, she is but a “handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word”.
“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.”
Pope Benedict XVI once called the Magnificat “a canticle that reveals in filigree the spirituality of the biblical anawim, that is, of those faithful who not only recognize themselves as "poor" in the detachment from all idolatry of riches and power, but also in the profound humility of a heart emptied of the temptation to pride and open to the bursting in of the divine saving grace.” Ours is a God who is not impressed by the mighty, the rich and the proud but whose Mercy is given to the humble and poor in spirit, none more deserving than our Blessed Mother. As Pope Bendict XVI remarks, “Mary’s greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself.”.
“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.”
The Magnificat also reflects God’s Mercy for His people since the beginning of time, especially through the Old Testament. It talks about His rescue of Israel from Egypt, His help in bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land, His prophets who showed Israel God’s Mercy through their countless acts and many other. Mary exults not for herself, but for her people, her children. We are reminded that Mary has become the new Ark of the Covenant, a sign for her people of God’s infinite generosity. She is to be the one that brings Jesus, the new Covenant between God and man, into the world. She plays this role even now, where according to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, she is like a “a magnifying glass that intensifies our love of her Son.” Just as she brought Jesus into the world at a time when the Jews were under the Roman empire, she brings Jesus into our hearts and our lives especially when we are shackled to the world.
Through the Magnificat, Mary does for the Church what mothers do best for their children: nurture. She shows us the only way to act when confronted with the Divine Mercy of God: in humility and joy. Her hymn of praise was one of exultation and deep joy at God’s Mercy but also one of humility. For she recognized that it is only through God’s Love of His People that all this was possible. Just as her Fiat was one of humble obedience, her Magnificat was one of humble praise. How beautiful! How rich! This was the woman Jesus entrusted His Church too: a deeply humble, God-fearing and loving Mother. May we take this month to not only rediscover this Mother of ours, but to ask for her guidance and intercessions that we too may be able to love God the way she does.
© 2019 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan