Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Monday, May 30, 2005

Mary's Magnificat

I am leading a Eucharistic Service, or what I prefer to give a more historical and elegant name, "The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts" tomorrow, so I've been working on a reflection for tomorrow's Feast of the Visitation which I include here:

"The scene depicted by St Luke which we have just heard in today’s Gospel is familiar to us. Indeed, it forms the basis of the second joyful mystery of the Rosary which we prayed earlier. It is a scene favoured in art (shown above in stained glass from Sto Domingo Church, Manila) and it culminates in the ‘Magnificat’, Mary’s song of praise. The 'Magnificat’ is probably the only Biblical text to have been set to music by such an array of composers. Ever since St Luke attributed these words to Our Lady, they have been lovingly sung by Christians of every generation and musicians have clothed the familiar words in glorious music. Indeed, the Church in her liturgy of the hours, prays the ‘Magnificat’ every evening during ‘Vespers’. It forms the highlight of that service of prayer and praise, when the baptised sing the words of Mary, which have resonated down the generations.

And this is fitting. For Mary is intimately united to the Church. As the Second Vatican Council taught: “For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother.” (LG 63). As our Mother and Model, the Blessed Virgin in her song, the ‘Magnificat’ gives us a fine example of praise and righteous prayer. Perhaps because these words are so familiar to us, we can run the risk of glossing over the very radical ideas contained within it and so, it is worth reminding ourselves again of just what the words of the ‘Magnificat’ may be calling us to.

In its structure, one can see the song echoes the Lord’s summation of the law: Love God and love your neighbour. These twin elements which can never be separated in the Christian life – and we receive very practical advice on this from St Paul in the first reading – are here in the Gospel beautifully expressed in Mary’s song.

Our Lady begins by praising God, the source and origin of her salvation. She magnifies him while emphasising her own lowliness, her nothingness in contrast to the greatness of God. She praises God and exults because she has him as her Saviour and has been looked upon with love by God. How wonderful are these words which express the attitude which each human person should have towards God, our Creator and Salvation! Truly, without God, we are nothing but because of his mercy and love towards us, we have cause to rejoice. To be truly joyful, which is an abiding interior disposition and not merely happy, which is often passing and transient. When humanity strives to become like gods, when we become over-inflated and hubristic, when we think we are our own salvation, we lose the inner joy and exultation that is ours, that Mary exemplifies. As she says “those who fear Him” will receive his mercy which reaches out to us. Perhaps a better way to understand this is to say that one should hold God in awe, for (again, as Mary says) he is holy and great. In a society which has lost that “profound respect” referred to by St Paul and even courtesy for one another, this value of awe, fear of the Lord is an important one to inculcate. As Ecclesiasticus says “To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” (Si 1:14).

However, balanced with our right relationship with God is a series of propositions on our right relationship with one another. It is the radical nature of this, Mary’s charter of social justice, if you like, that I wish to draw our attention to this morning.

The Lord will humble the proud-hearted. The translation used in the Anglican communion is indeed evocative: “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” The verbs used here are violent, forceful. The Lord will bare the power of his arm and his might (which Mary has already highlighted at the beginning) but he will not be beneficent towards those who are proud, conceited, puffed-up. Those who do not recognise their own lowliness and who lord it over others will be scattered, like autumn leaves before the wind. For those who are proud, who think themselves superior to others, for whatever reason, are proud in the “imagination of their hearts”. That is, they vainly imagine themselves to be better. The Lord will disabuse them of such vainglory and he may do so violently. In sickness, in death, in tragedy, rich and poor alike are reminded that we all share a common humanity, a great equality in the face of these great equalizers and the Lord alone delivers us from them.

Mary’s song takes on a political edge in this regard when she says that princes will be humbled from their thrones and the lowly shall be exalted. But this is no mere vision of egalitarian democracy, much less of Communist-style equality. Rather, we should be reminded of Christ’s words: “You have no power over me unless it had been given you from above…” (Jn 19:11) and again “All authority in heaven and earth have been given to me.” (Mt 28:18). What the ‘Magnificat’ affirms then is that power and authority are gifts from God and they are not to be exercised for selfish reasons but for Godly reasons. The Lord will put down those who rule his people with pride and greed. Many a corrupt regime has met its dramatic end in uprisings of the lowly poor. Mary’s words, in a sense, empower the lowly, the poor, the marginalised to rise up in God’s name to overthrow the oppression of self-serving governments; to depose haughty princes from their thrones.

The Lord will feed the hungry. Obviously he gives us the Bread of Life, the Body and Blood of his Son. But Mary is speaking here of something more immediate than just the spiritual. Her words are a reminder that all riches and goods come from him and we are to distribute these equitably. A person with a growling stomach is too distracted to listen to the Gospel being preached. Indeed, for the starving, the Gospel is being fed, being given a job, being given opportunities for a better life. Only when these basic needs have been met can they be ready to hear the Word of salvation. The 'Make Poverty History' campaign is a worthy cause indeed for it strives for precisely these initial objectives: to free the lowly from the shackles of debt and poverty, to encourage just trade structures to enable the hungry to be fed and educated and justly employed.

As Mary’s song reminds us today, we have a Christian duty to struggle with and for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed for justice and peace. When we; when the Church, prays the ‘Magnificat’, day after day, we are in fact calling to mind the radical values of Christian living which calls us to love one another and in so doing to love God. As I have said, the two aspects are inseparable. Indeed, as St Paul (in the first reading) says, we are to “make real friends with the poor” (Rom 12:16) and the Christian core of friendship is love. Again, as he says: “Love each other as much as brothers should” (Rom 12:10), and to love our brothers and sisters means that we reach out to others in love and work for a brighter, better tomorrow. In this, we have Mary, our Mother as our example, not just in the words of her ‘Magnificat’ but also in her actions – she who reached out in love to her elderly and pregnant cousin Elizabeth and “made hospitality her special care.” (cf Romans 12:13).

This example of self-giving finds its paragon in the person of Christ himself, whom we receive today in the Eucharist. May the grace of this sacrament move us to make Mary’s ‘Magnifcat’ our very own vision of the Kingdom, our charter for justice and peace. As Pope Benedict XVI said last month: “The Eucharist makes the Risen Christ constantly present, Christ Who continues to give Himself to us, calling us to participate in the banquet of His Body and His Blood. From this full communion with Him comes every other element of the life of the Church, in the first place the communion among the faithful, the commitment to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel, the ardour of charity towards all, especially towards the poor and the smallest.” (Message to the Cardinals, 20 April 2005)."


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