Luke 1:46-55

The Magnificat

How would you compose a song of praise? What would you include in the song?

Popular Translation

46 Mary declared, “My heart shouts praise to the Lord! 47 God has made me so happy! 48 He looks upon me, his humble servant, with smiling eyes. From now on, people throughout time will honor me. 49 He has done so many wonderful things for me. He is powerful and his name is truly holy!

50 Throughout time, God shows his mercy to those who respect him. 51 With his power, he does great things. God scatters all who are full of themselves. 52 He topples powerful rulers and he raises the humble up high. 53 He fills the hungry with rich food. But he sends away the greedy with empty hands. 54 God sends help to Israel, his dear people. This is how he remembers his mercy to them. 55 This is the way he spoke to our ancestors, Abraham and his children. And he will speak this way to his people forever.”

Literal Translation

46 Mary said:

My soul makes the Lord great,
47 and my spirit is glad in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked upon the lowly state of his servant.

For, Look! from now on all generations will call me happy,
49 that the Powerful (One) has done great (things) for me,
‘Holy’ is his name,

50 and his compassion (is) on generation and (following) generation,
to the (ones) fearing him.

51 He did a mighty deed with his arm,
he scattered the arrogant in the ways of thinking for their hearts.

52 He torn powerful (men) down from (their) thrones,
and elevated the lowly in station;
53 (those) hungering he satisfied with good (things),
and (those) being rich he sent away hungry.

54 He grasped (to help) Israel, his (chosen) boy servant,
to remember his (past) mercy,
55 just as he told our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed, unto the (eternal) age.”

1:46-47 “soul makes...great...spirit is glad” Some biblical scholars make a distinction between soul and spirit. The soul was seen as the seat of one’s inner life (which felt emotion); the spirit was seen as the God-given spark of life that insured the soul’s survival. But, in practical terms, the two phrases expressed the same idea: Mary was overjoyed by God’s blessing. So, this introduction contained a poetic redundancy.

1:49 “Powerful One...’Holy’” Both titles for God refer to the same idea, God is totally Other, the Transcendent One. This was another case of poetic redundancy.

1:51 “he scattered the arrogant in the ways of thinking for their hearts” This confusing phrase can more easily understood as: “God scattered the arrogant because of the way their hearts understand.” The context of the next two verses make this phrase clear: God would turn the world of the arrogant upside down. The rulers would become the ruled. The rich would become the new poor. Future circumstances would change the way these people would feel about themselves and their world.

1:56 “house” was the same as “family.”

The Magnificat stands as one of the most beautiful songs of praise in Scripture. A lowly Palestinian girl became an instrument of God’s plan. In response to Elizabeth’s greeting, she proclaimed the Good News.

Mary began the Magnificat with a song of joy. God had decided to use a lowly handmaiden to fulfill his will. His activity in Mary’s life was a reason for praise and was seen as an act of divine power. This line of reasoning paralleled Luke’‘s view of the crucifixion. Jesus died a shameful death in the eyes of his contemporaries, yet, in the eyes of the faithful, his lowly death was a mighty act of God. After all, just as the pain of childbirth gives way to the joy of new life, so the death pangs of Jesus gave way to the glory of the resurrection. The pregnancy of Mary was the first step in God’s immediate plan for salivation.

What would that pregnancy mean to Israel? Mary’s song listed two results: a sign of the faithfulness to the people and justice. God would change (even invert) the world order. The rich and powerful would be humbled. And the poor would be exalted. How? Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His life would mark the beginning of the end time, when divine justice would reign and God would bless even the forgotten among the people. In the end, God would keep his promises.

So, Mary had reason for joy. Her status was not based upon local opinion, but upon her place in God’s plan. She was the first to accept the Good News at the Annunciation. Now she was an instrument of God’s will and power. For that reason, her reputation would spread from generation to generation. She would be the mother of the Savior. And, the Mother of God!

How does the Magnificat express your personal praise to God?