“Then Mary said: ‘My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord.’ ” —Luke 1:46
“The Magnificat is the crown of the Old Testament singing, the last canticle of the Old and the first of the New Testament. It was uttered (or, not improbably, chanted) by the Blessed Virgin, when she visited her cousin Elizabeth under the circumstances narrated by St. Luke in the first chapter of his Gospel. It is an ecstasy of praise for the inestimable favour bestowed by God on the Virgin, for the mercies shown to Israel, and for the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and to the patriarchs.” [The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX, Copyright (C) 1910 by Robert Appleton Company]
Biblical scholars theorize that The Magnificat or Canticle of Mary was not a pure Lucan composition; he probably got it from the Jewish Christian Anawim, the “poor ones” who relied on the Lord for their salvation. These recognized that in Jesus God has raised them up and saved them according to His promise. Luke sees Mary as their representative and spokesperson and so lets her vocalize their sentiments, retouching the original song to suit Mary’s condition.
As it stands, the Magnificat echoes Old Testament traditions in which men and women sang praise to God for His mighty deeds in behalf of His people Israel. In style and in thematic parallels, it is similar to the Song of Hannah in 1 Sm 2:1-10. Both Mary and Hannah are called “handmaids of the Lord” and both acknowledge that God’s purpose will be achieved through the birth of their respective children. Other comparable songs are the Song of Moses (Ex 15:1-18), the Song of Asaph (1 Chr 16:7-36), and the songs of praise in the book of Psalms (Pss 33, 47, 136).
Structurally, the Magnificat has three parts: The introduction in which Mary proclaims the Lord’s greatness and recognizes Him as her Savior, the body which gives the motives of praise (God’s saving deeds), and the conclusion which recapitulates some of the motives and rehearses the availability of God’s mercy in every generation (see “365 Days with the Lord 2010,” ST PAULS).
With the Magnificat of Mary we are, once again, reminded of our Vocation of Praise. Praising God is a God-appointed calling. Indeed, God has formed for himself a people “that they may proclaim my [God’s] praise” ( Isa 43:21 ; cf. Jer 13:11 ). God’s actions, such as Israel’s restoration from the exile, are to result in God’s “righteousness and praise spring [ing] up before all nations” ( Isa 61:11 ). God has also predestined the church “to the praise of his [God’s] glorious grace” ( Eph 1:6 ; cf. Matt 5:16 ; Eph 1:14 ; Php 1:11 ; 1 Peter 2:9 ). The future vocation of the redeemed in glory is to sing praise to God and the Lamb ( Rev 4:11 ; 5:12-14 ; 7:12 ). Doxologies are fitting because they capture what God intends for people ( Psalm 33:1 ; 147:1 ).
Reasons for Praising God. In addition to being the fulfillment of a calling, praise is prompted by other considerations, chief of which is the unique nature of God ( 1 Chron 29:10-13 ). One genre of the psalms, the hymns, is characterized by an initial summons, such as “Praise the Lord, ” which is followed by a declaration of praise, introduced by the word “for, ” which lists the grounds for offering praise, often God’s majesty and mercy. The shortest psalm ( 117 ), a hymn, offers a double reason for praise: God’s merciful kindness (loyal love) is great, and his truth endures forever. Other hymns point out that God is good ( Ezra 3:10-11 ;Psalm 100:5 ; 135:3 ), or that his ordinances are just ( Psalm 119:164 ), that he remembers his covenant ( Psalm 105:7-8 ), that his love is enduring (Ps. 136), or that he is incomparable ( Psalm 71:19 ). A basic understanding in the hymns, if not in all the psalms, is captured in the theme “The Lord reigns.” God’s kingship is pronounced both in his majestic power displayed through the creation of the world ( Psalm 29 , 104 ) and in his royal rule, often as deliverer, over his people ( Psalm 47 , 68 , 98 , 114 ). As king, God is judge, warrior, and shepherd. Often too, praise is to the name of God ( Psalm 138:2 ; 145:2 ; Isa 25:1 ). That name, Yahweh, conveys the notion that God is present to act in salvation ( Exod 6:1-8 ).
The biblical examples of praise to God, apart from citing his attributes and role, point to God’s favors, usually those on a large scale in behalf of Israel. A hymn in the Isaiah collection exhorts, “Sing praise to the Lord for his glorious achievement” ( Isa 12:5 ; nab ). Exhortations to praise are sometimes followed by a catalogue of God’s actions in Israel’s behalf ( Neh 9:5 ; Psalm 68:4-14 ). God’s most spectacular action involves the incarnation of Jesus, an event heralded in praises by angels in the heavens and shepherds returning to their fields: “Glory to God in the highest” ( Luke 2:14 Luke 2:20 ). Praise is the legitimate response to God’s self-revelation. Personal experiences of God’s deliverance and favor also elicit praise ( Psalm 34 ; 102:18 ; 107 ; cf. Dan 2:20-23 ; Rom 7:25 ; the healed paralytic, Luke 5:25 ; Zechariah, Luke 1:68 ; the response at Nain, Luke 7:16 ; and Jesus himself, Matt 11:25 and her mother Mary Lk 1:46). An intimate relationship of a person or a people with God is sufficient reason for praise. A psalmist, captivated by the reality of God’s choice of Jacob, exhorts, “Sing praise” ( Psalm 135 ; cf. Rev 19:5 ).
Praise means “to commend, to applaud or magnify.” For the Christian, praise to God is an expression of worship, lifting-up and glorifying the Lord. It is an expression of humbling ourselves and centering our attention upon the Lord with heart-felt expressions of love, adoration and thanksgiving. High praises bring our spirit into a pinnacle of fellowship and intimacy between ourselves and God — it magnifies our awareness of our spiritual union with the most high God. Praise transports us into the realm of the supernatural and into the power of God. “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance” (Psalms 89:15).
There are many actions involved with praise to God — verbal expressions of adoration and thanksgiving, singing, playing instruments, shouting, dancing, lifting or clapping our hands. But true praise is not “merely” going through these motions. Jesus spoke about the hypocrisy of the pharisees, whose worship was only an outward show and not from the heart. “This people worship me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Genuine praise to God is a matter of humility and sincere devotion to the Lord from within. Unpretentious praise and worship pleases the Lord. The true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him” (John 4:23).
Inspirational story about PRAISE.
An elderly lady was well-known for her faith and for her boldness in talking about it. She would stand on her front porch and shout “PRAISE THE LORD!”
Next door to her lived an atheist who would get so angry at her proclamations he would shout, “There ain’t no Lord!!”
Hard times set in on the elderly lady, and she prayed for GOD to send her some assistance. She stood on her porch and shouted “PRAISE THE LORD. GOD I NEED FOOD!! I AM HAVING A HARD TIME. PLEASE LORD, SEND ME SOME GROCERIES!!”
The next morning the lady went out on her porch and noted a large bag of groceries and shouted, “PRAISE THE LORD.”
The neighbor jumped from behind a bush and said, “Aha! I told you there was no Lord. I bought those groceries, God didn’t.”
The lady started jumping up and down and clapping her hands and said, “PRAISE THE LORD. He not only sent me groceries, but He made the devil pay for them. Praise the Lord!”
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Ps. 103:2-4