There is so much to be learned through prayerful reflection on the Magnificat. Firstly, we can learn so much about Our Lady and the attributes that made her pleasing to God. Secondly, we can learn why it is pleasing to God that we practice devotion to her. And finally, in it, Mary shows us how to glorify God with our lives.
“My soul magnifies the Lord…”
God’s greatness is shown through Mary, and through all the graces He has given her for the benefit of us all. Mary magnifies God’s goodness and mercy, because through her we see the greatness of the gifts He has bestowed on us, especially through the Incarnation and our Redemption. Mary’s words point us also to our own purpose in life – which is to glorify God through our actions. As Our Lord Himself said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
“…and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”
The fruit and reward for our love of God is to behold His happiness and rejoice in it, and to share in the perfect peace, joy, and love of the Trinity in Heaven. Here on earth, we are given a foretaste of this through the fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity,
generosity, joy, gentleness, peace, faithfulness, patience, modesty, kindness, self-control, goodness and chastity.
“…for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden…”
In this line, Mary reveals how God is magnified and glorified through her, and that is by her deep humility.
Probably the best definition of humility that I have found is this: “Humility is in reality a confession of the greatness of God.” (Humility of Heart, p. 27)
Humility is attributing all the good in us to God, thereby acknowledging His greatness in giving us such wonderful gifts, especially since we are so unworthy of them.
God uses the humble as the instruments of His will, for they attribute none of His graces to themselves, thereby giving Him greater glory. It all comes down to the fact that we cannot glorify God by our actions if we are constantly seeking glory for ourselves.
“…For behold, henceforth, all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name…”
I used to have a problem with this line…I thought it sounded proud. But ironically, in this line Mary actually expresses the deepest humility. She recognizes that all that is good in her comes from God, and she thanks Him for the graces He has given her. Her cousin Elizabeth just praised her, and she immediately directed that praise to God, attributing nothing to herself. Our Lady does the same even now. When we praise her, we are ultimately praising God for all the wonderful things He has done for her, and Mary always directs that praise to God. Our Lady once appeared to St. Faustina, and said “You give me great joy when you adore The Holy Trinity for the graces and privileges which were accorded me” (Diary 564), and this is essentially what Marian Devotion is.
“…And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation…”
God’s mercy should never be a cause for presumption – a reason to think I can keep sinning in such and such a way because God is loving and merciful and He will forgive me anyway. As Our Lady points out, God is merciful to those who are truly repentant for their sins, and are filled with a holy fear of the Lord, from which follows a desire to die rather than offend Him. In Romans 2:4, St. Paul says, “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”. When God forgives us He says: “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)
“…He has shown strength with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree…”
Upon reflection, this makes me think of Satan being confounded by God’s plans for our salvation. Satan, in his pride, could not imagine God choosing to make his presence on Earth as a baby, born of the poor and humble Blessed Virgin. And he did not expect her, who was of low degree, to be exalted and made the Mother of God Himself. In the same way, the proud cannot recognize Christ, because they try to limit God to their own understanding. It is in this sense that St. Paul said: “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”. (1 Cor 1:23)
God always enriches the humble with graces, and reveals His ways to the souls of little children, ways often hidden to those who imagine themselves to be wise (cf. Matthew 11:25). God’s ways are not our ways, so we must learn to submit ourselves to His will with child-like confidence. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-7)
“…He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away…”
In her apparitions, Our Lady consistently calls us to prayer and penance, and this statement from the Magnificat makes me think particularly of her second request-penance. The less we seek our own pleasure, the more happiness we will find in pleasing God. As St. Francis de Sales says in his Introduction to a Devout Life: “They that are glutted with the pleasures of the world are not capable of the delights of the Spirit.” (p. 324)
It also reminds me of the beatitude: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6), which can be rephrased “those who hunger and thirst after holiness”. Those who truly desire to become holy will be given God’s grace to aid them.
“…He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.” -Luke 1:46-55
Here Our Lady expresses faith and trust in the Lord’s promises, and in His covenants to Israel. As St. Elizabeth said to her: “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45) Our Lady praises God for the wonderful fulfillment of these promises in the Saviour now hidden in her womb.
By pondering this Canticle of Praise in our hearts, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary guides us to the realization of our purpose and the means to fulfill it – namely: humility and faithfulness; a holy fear of the Lord; a desire for holiness; self-denial; and a total abandonment of ourselves to His will – all rooted in an unshakeable trust in His goodness and the fulfillment of His promises.
Let us offer ourselves to Our Blessed Mother, that by imitating her example, and entrusting ourselves to her care, we may become who we were created to be by doing whatever Our Lord tells us to do. (Amen!)
The Bible. RSV.
Divine Mercy in My Soul. The Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. Marian Press. 2013