Commentary on the Magnificat

“The Lord Places Himself on the Side of the Least”

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 15, 2006 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the Magnificat, the canticle in Luke 1:46-55.

With this address, he concluded the cycle of catecheses on the Psalms and biblical canticles begun by Pope John Paul II in 2001.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

1. We have come to the end of the long itinerary begun exactly five years ago by my beloved predecessor, the unforgettable Pope John Paul II. In his catecheses, the great Pope wished to go through the whole sequence of Psalms and canticles that make up the fabric of the fundamental prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours and of Vespers. On arriving at the end of this pilgrimage through the texts, as a journey through a garden full of flowers of praise, invocation, prayer and contemplation, we now make room for that canticle that seals the whole celebration of Vespers, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

It is a canticle that reveals the spirituality of the biblical “anawim,” namely, of those faithful who acknowledged themselves “poor” not only because of their detachment from all idolatry of wealth and power, but also because of their profound humility of heart, free from the temptation to pride, open to saving divine grace. The whole Magnificat, which we just heard interpreted by the Choir of the Sistine Chapel, is characterized by this “humility,” in Greek “tapeinosis,” which indicates a situation of concrete humility and poverty.

2. The first movement of the Marian canticle (cf. Luke 1:46-50) is like a soloist who raises her voice to heaven to the Lord. To be pointed out, in fact, is the use of the first person which resounds constantly: “my soul …, my spirit …, my Savior …, will call me blessed …, has done great things in me….” The soul of the prayer is, therefore, the celebration of divine grace that has come into Mary’s heart and life, making her the Mother of the Lord. We hear precisely the Virgin’s voice speaking in this way of her Savior, who has done great things in her soul and body.

The profound structure of her canticle of prayer is praise, thanksgiving, grateful joy. But this personal testimony is not solitary and private, merely individualistic, as the Virgin Mary is conscious that she has a mission to fulfill for humanity and that her life is framed in the history of salvation. Thus she can say: “His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him” (verse 50). With this praise to the Lord, the Virgin gives voice to all creatures redeemed after her “fiat,” who in the figure of Jesus, born of the Virgin, find the mercy of God.

3. At this point develops the second poetic and spiritual movement of the Magnificat (cf. verses 51-55). It has the tone of a choir, as if to Mary’s voice were joined that of the community of the faithful, which celebrates God’s amazing decisions. In the Greek original of the Gospel of Luke we find seven verbs in aorist, which indicate many other actions that the Lord has carried out permanently in history: “he has shown strength with his arm …, he has scattered the proud …, he has put down the mighty from their thrones …, exalted those of low degree …, he has filled the hungry with good things …, the rich he has sent empty away …, has helped his servant Israel.”

Evident in these seven divine works is the “style” in which the Lord of history inspires his conduct: He places himself on the side of the least. Often, his plan is hidden under the opaque terrain of human vicissitudes, in which the “proud,” the “mighty” and the “rich” triumph. However, in the end, his secret strength is destined to manifest who God’s real favorites are: the “faithful” to his Word, “the humble,” “the hungry,” “his servant Israel,” namely, the community of the People of God that, as Mary, is constituted by those who are “poor,” pure and simple of heart. It is that “little flock” which Jesus invites not to be afraid, as the Father has willed to give it his kingdom (cf. Luke 12:32). Thus, this canticle invites us to associate ourselves to this little flock, to really be members of the People of God in purity and simplicity of heart, in love of God.

4. Let us accept, then, the invitation that St. Ambrose makes to us in his commentary on the Magnificat. The great doctor of the Church exhorts: “In the heart of each one may Mary praise the Lord, in each may the spirit of Mary rejoice in the Lord; if, according to the flesh, Christ has only one mother, according to faith all souls engender Christ; each one, in fact, receives in himself the Word of God … Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God as, consecrated with her soul and spirit to the Father and to the Son, she adores with devout affection only one God, from whom everything proceeds, and only one Lord, in virtue of whom all things exist” (“Esposizione del Vangelo Secondo Luca,” 2,26-27: Saemo, XI, Milan-Rome, 1978, p. 169).

In this wonderful commentary on the Magnificat of St. Ambrose I am always moved by this amazing word: “If, according to the flesh, Christ has only one mother, according to faith all souls engender Christ; each one, in fact, receives in himself the Word of God.” Thus the holy doctor, interpreting the words of the Virgin herself, invites us to offer the Lord a dwelling in our souls and in our lives. Not only must we bear him in our hearts, but we must take him to the world, so that we too might engender Christ for our times. Let us pray to the Lord to help us to praise him with Mary’s spirit and soul and to take Christ again to our world.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father read the following summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we bring to a conclusion the cycle of reflections, begun by my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II, on the Psalms and canticles found in the Liturgy of the Hours.

We do so with a meditation on the Magnificat, which extols the biblical poor, the “anawim,” who live in deep humility of heart and openness to God’s saving grace. They are free from pride and detached from aspirations to human greatness.

The first part of the canticle portrays Mary rejoicing in the grace which has come into her heart and her life. She does this in a personal way, but is aware also of her mission to all humanity.

The second part places Mary’s words of praise in harmony with the whole history of the faithful. They celebrate the surprising choices of God who “scatters the proud-hearted” … “casts the mighty from their thrones” … “fills the starving with good things.”

Let us conclude by associating ourselves with the invitation of the great St. Ambrose: “May each one of us glorify the Lord with the soul of Mary and rejoice in God with the spirit of Mary.”

[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I am happy to offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s audience. I extend particular greetings to the groups from England, Ireland, Denmark, Norway and the United States of America. May your time in Rome strengthen your faith and renew you love for the Lord and his Blessed Mother. May God bless you all!

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