Advent is the Season of Mary- a chance to revel in the depths of the feminine. The most recent edition of National Geographic proclaims Mary "the most powerful woman in the world", and it is indeed staggering to consider the extraordinary amount of inspiring art, architecture and music that has been created in her name. Mary has been hailed throughout the centuries as the symbol of mercy, peacemaking, forgiveness, love, tenderness, acceptance- not just within Christianity. I was shocked to learn that the Koran declares that Mary is the most virtuous of all women, to be venerated even above the Prophet Mohammad's own wife and mother. Dante felt that she was the exemplar of every virtue and extolls her as the Queen of Heaven.
There is actually preciously little written about Mary in the New Testament, but her longest speech, known as the Magnificat, and found only in the Gospel of Luke, is indeed powerful and inspiring. I invite you to consider whether it really depicts a woman who is "meek and mild" or if it is, as some theologians have suggested, an exultation of long-sought for justice and a turning upside down of the established social order- Mary as the spiritual revolutionary whose message was mirrored later by her son in the Beatitudes.
My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him : throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.
The Magnificat was one of the very first Christian hymns. In the coming week, I will post musical settings throughout the ages, from the Middle Ages through our modern times. The first is the setting sung every evening as part of the Vespers service of Evening Prayer by the Daughters of Mary, a group of Catholic nuns who have recorded it on their album A Day in The Cloister. I invite you to light a candle, listen and contemplate what the words might mean for you in your life right now.