Mary’s Magnificat is a glorious lyric, a poetic summary from scripture, filled with Old Testament phrases and praises of the God who keeps his own covenanted faithfulness and brings his word to fulfillment (Gen. 17:19; 1 Sam. 2:7–8; Pss. 138:6; 71:19; 126:2–3; 111:9; 103:17; 98:1; 118:15; Isa. 41:8; Hab. 3:18).
Echoes of Torah, of the rejoicing of Hannah, but most of all of the psalms of David are woven together into an exuberant poem. And it seems fitting that one who is to bring into the world the “word from the beginning,” the long-awaited “David’s royal son,” should be among women a poet and human author of a seminal scripture herself.
As with the song of her namesake predecessor Miriam (Exod. 15) and the psalms of her ancestor David, so Mary’s song is poetry attuned for joyous praise; in it God is found to be greater than all our frail imaginings of him. Ambrose remarks that everyone should aspire to “the spirit of Mary, so that he may rejoice in the Lord” (Exposition of Luke 2.2c).
Botticelli has a painting, Madonna della Magnificat, in which (also “poetical”) Mary is shown writing her great poem into Luke’s book as the evangelist holds her inkwell! Spiritually, this painting echoes the comment of Ambrose. The Hebraic verbal echoes are deep and resonate already in the greeting of Gabriel and Elizabeth: “Blessed is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 1); blessed is the man, and so also blessed is the woman who is found in the way of complete openness to the word of God.
Bonaventure’s summary seems most apt: “Her canticle shows that the fulfillment of all promised blessings has come about, and therefore brings about the fulfillment of all praise and canticles and even of the [entire] Scriptures” (2001–4: 1.1.100).
©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.