The Magnificat: Song of the Immaculate Heart

Canticles are poems found in Scripture. The Church has specially used the canticles in the Liturgy of the Hours. In Morning Prayer, twenty-five canticles of the Old Testament are sung over the four-week period. In Evening prayer, seven canticles of the New Testament are sung, one for each day of the week, taken from the apostolic letters and from Revelations. But it is the great Gospel canticles that are the climax of the Liturgy of the Hours. Both of them are found in Saint Luke and they are the Benedictus and Magnificat.

Of all the canticles in Scripture, the one that comes from the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the most beautiful and profound. In her words we can see how much she treasures God’s words in her heart. This was the canticle of praise that was forming in Mary’s heart while she was traveling to visit her cousin Elizabeth. It expresses the divine Word that she is carrying in her womb. It is a canticle of praise and thanksgiving, “the impulse of a joy craving for expression.” (1) The few lines the Mother speaks are full of much more meaning than is evident at first.

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Savior.

Here our Blessed Mother directs all praise she is receiving from her cousin Elizabeth to God. St. Augustine says that “to magnify the Lord is to adore, praise and exalt His immense grandeur, His supreme majesty, His infinite excellence and perfections.” (2)

Notice how Mary does not say, “I Magnify,” rather she says, “my soul magnifies.” This is very significant since it shows that “she magnifies Him (God) from the utmost depths of her Heart and with her whole inner strength… (with) all the faculties of her soul—her understanding, memory, will and all the powers of the superior and inferior part of her soul, exhausting full inward and outward strength in order to praise, glorify and magnify her God.” (3)

Also, Mary blesses God in the name of all the souls who belong to her. How so? St. Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans that God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). In other words, God has given us everything in Jesus. St. John Eudes concludes then, that “in giving Christ to His divine Mother, He thus gave her all things and therefore all souls belong to her.” (4) So, as Mary says this she is thinking of all the souls who belong to her and she unites them to her praise to magnify God who has become man, out of love, in her sacred womb.

Mary then says, “my spirit exults in God my Savior.” Here she is referring to God, the creator of the universe, first of all. When she says “my Savior” she is referring to Jesus, the Redeemer of all mankind, herself included. So the Mother is rejoicing because her Savior “had come into the world to save and redeem her first and foremost, preserving her from original sin and overwhelming her with His graces and favors in such an abundance that He made her His mediatrix and cooperator in the salvation of all mankind.” (5) It is from God that Mary has received reason to rejoice.

Because he has regarded the humility of his handmaid.

The humility of our blessed Mother is that she recognizes her radical dependence on her creator, it is “human littleness before the greatness of God.” (6) This reminds us of the reply Mary gave the archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). According to several Fathers of the Church, it was Mary’s humility that pleased God the most. St. Bernard said “she pleased God with her virginity but she conceived the Son of God through her humility.” (7)

After love, humility is the most important of all virtues. Jesus Christ taught us