What is the Magnificat?
In short, the Magnificat is Mary's hymn of praise recorded in Luke 1:46–55 spoken in response to her cousin Elizabeth's greeting and blessing. Finding herself pregnant after the angel Gabriel's visit, Mary went to Elizabeth's house to see if Elizabeth was also pregnant like the angel had said. Elizabeth was visibly pregnant, being six months along in her pregnancy with John the Baptist who leapt inside her womb when Mary arrived. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Luke 1:42–45). The Magnificat is Mary's response.
The reason Mary's poetic response is referred to as the Magnificat is because in Latin, magnificat (meaning "magnify," "glorify," "exalt," etc.) is the first word of her response. In this reply, Mary glorified God for blessing her and for His faithfulness to Israel. She used parallelism as a poetic device to restate her point. Mary began with two synonymous parallels declaring God's greatness and finding delight in Him. Then she used three contrasting parallels about God scattering the proud but exalting the humble, bringing the mighty low but lifting up the lowly, and leaving the rich empty while filling the hungry. These contrasts and reversals certainly expressed her feelings as a poor young girl who would now become the mother of the Messiah.
Mary's response is one of four hymns of praise recorded in Luke in response to the birth of Christ. The other three are Zechariah's Benedictus (Luke 1:67–79), the angels' Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Luke 2:13–14), and Simeon's Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:28–32). Mary's Magnificat also echoes many scriptural passages from the Old Testament, most notably Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1–10. Even today, her poetic response is still used in worship services, especially around Christmas. Mary's glorifying God in this poetic way has stood for many generations. May it inspire us to similarly recognize God's work throughout history and within our own personal lives. It is printed below for that purpose.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
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