Towards the end of this month which is dedicated to Mary, it would be good for us to find time to reflect on the gospel reading that highlights the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth which, to me, is probably one of the most moving passages in the Scriptures.
This passage conveys at least two messages. The first discloses the blessedness of Mary the Mother of God which, to some extent, also influences our nature as having been blessed by God. The other speaks of the revolution that Mary may have initiated through her subservience to the Will of God.
The issue over the veneration of Mary by Catholics has become a contentious subject. In fact, it has become one of the issues that other denominations have assailed.
Mary was blessed, and there shouldn’t be any doubt about this as this can be seen in the way her cousin Elizabeth exclaimed upon seeing her: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (v.42.) And there shouldn’t be any question that Mary was indeed blessed from the time the angel Gabriel appeared to her and said: “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women… Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. (Lk 1:28, 30)
What made Mary blessed was that the child she will carry in her womb “shall be called the Son of God.” (Lk 1:35) And the glorious fate of the world was sealed when Mary humbly and meekly responded: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.” (Lk 1:38)
Thus it follows that if Mary, whom Catholics worldwide regard as the Mother of the Church, was blessed, then we her children are also blessed especially for those who have responded to the call of discipleship. We can see this in St. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” (Eph 1:3-7)
But to be blessed by God carries certain responsibilities, and to us the new Christian disciples, this means responding positively to the call of Jesus to: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mk 16:15) Jesus promised, “In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mk 16:17-18)
Hence, there shouldn’t be any doubt that like Mary, we, too, are blessed and similarly as her blessedness became a sword that pierced her heart which came when her son Jesus was crucified, our own blessedness invites trials and challenges because our Christian values are opposed to those of the world. This is the paradox of blessedness. While it brings us joy, we also cannot escape the sorrow that comes from the persecution we face.
In the second part of this Gospel reading we hear Mary saying, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” (v.46). This is the first line in the Latin language of what has been widely received as the prayer or the Canticle of Mary. This first line of the Magnificat as what Mary’s prayer is commonly called opens the heart of Mary for all men to see not just how she felt but the humility she possessed notwithstanding the blessing she had received.
In effect, the Magnificat is similar to what the Beatitudes is all about because Mary’s hymn of praise was not just about a song or a canticle that we recite during the Liturgy of the Hours but it serves as a guide after which we pattern our lives to that which was proclaimed by God through Mary.
(We are inviting readers of this column to attend the Prayer Meeting of BLD Detroit that meets every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the St. Paul of the Cross parish church in Detroit, Michigan. For prayer requests, email this writer at [email protected])