“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”Mary's statement, “behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” is both prophetic (she's saying what will happen in the future, for all generations) and prescriptive (she's saying that this is what should happen, since she's saying it happens on account of the holiness of God). Let's consider the Magnificat, then, both as a prescription, and a prophesy.
I. The Magnificat as a Prescription
The first point here is an obvious one: Mary is saying that all generations are right to call to her blessed, because God has done great things for her, and holy is His Name. I brought this passage up to an Evangelical I was speaking to recently, and asked how all generations call Mary blessed. The person I was speaking to immediately conceded, that for Evangelicals, “we don't.” A number of other Protestant converts have noticed the same thing:
|Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato,|
The Virgin in Prayer (1640s)
It was a startling paradigm shift to realize we treated her so allergically-and one which, I have since noticed, isn't unusual for converts. Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, told me once that when he was still hanging back from the Church because of Mary, a blunt priest he knew asked him, “Do you believe her soul magnifies the Lord? It's right there in Scripture.” Ahlquist reflexively answered back, “Of course I do! I know the Bible!” But even as he replied he was thinking to himself, “I never really thought of that before.” It can be a disorienting experience.
But, in fact, it is right there in the Bible. Her soul magnifies the Lord, and from that day to this all generations have called her blessed. So why, when we Evangelicals looked at Jesus, did we never look at Him through the divinely appointed magnifying glass? Why were we so edgy about calling her “blessed” and giving her any honor? That realization was my first clue that it was, perhaps, Catholics who were simply being normal and human in honoring Mary, while we Evangelicals were more like teetotalers fretting that far too much wine was being drunk at the wedding in Cana.There are very few passages in the New Testament that explicitly address the way that future generations are to act. One of those passages is John 17:20-23, in which Jesus explicitly prays that the Church would remain One in subsequent generations. Another is this passage, calling all generations to bless Mary. To the point that Protestants can recognize that they're in violation of this call to honor Mary, it should be a wake-up call that perhaps they, rather than Catholics, are the ones with a Mary problem.
II. The Magnificat as a Prophesy
|Virgin and Child with Balaam the Prophet,|
Second century Marian art on the walls of the Catacombs.
The above point is one that I've heard before, and it's an important one. But I think that there's another point, even more fundamental than the first, that gets overlooked. Mary isn't just saying that all generations should call her blessed. She's saying that all generations will call her blessed. That means that every generation, from the time of the Apostles up to the present, up to the end of time, has blessed Mary, or will bless Mary.
That's just taking the statement at face value, but consider: how did pre-Reformation Christians bless Mary? There were no Evangelicals at the time, and so nobody within the Church treated Mary the way that Evangelicals treat her today. Christians were either Catholic or Orthodox, and we can say, as a matter of historical fact, that for several generations, Mary was blessed by several generations through Marian hymns, art, and prayers... the very things that Evangelicals object to. These are ways that Catholics and Orthodox bless her still, down to the current generation.
We can know that the early Christians were strong believers in the Physical Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because their opponents used to accuse them of cannibalism. Likewise, we can know that the Christians of the seventh century had a high view of Mary, because they were accused of being Mary-worshipers. This is one of the charges leveled against us in the Qu'ran, for example. The fifth chapter (or sura) of the Qu'ran is written as about, and then to, Christians. Qu'ran 5:14 says,
|A 6th century icon (a century before Muhammad) |
depicting Mary and Jesus
And from those who say, “We are Christians” We took their covenant; but they forgot a portion of that of which they were reminded. So We caused among them animosity and hatred until the Day of Resurrection. And Allah is going to inform them about what they used to do.
One of the specific problems cited against Christians is that they allegedly worship both Jesus and Mary (Qu'ran 5:116):
And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?’” He will say, “Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen.”
Now, obviously, this grossly misrepresents Christianity. We don't believe Jesus is a separate God from the Father, and we don't worship Mary at all. But you can bet that if the seventh century Christians treated Mary the way that modern Evangelicals do, nobody would be accusing them of Mary-worship. For that matter, let's not overlook the fact that the most common way that the Qu'ran refers to Jesus is as “Jesus, Son of Mary.” All of this suggests that Christians at the time took a very high view of Mary of the very sort that many Protestants object to today.
Now, this isn't a particularly controversial point. No Protestant that I know denies that pre-Reformation Christians venerated Mary to a degree (and in a manner) that makes them uncomfortable. But look at how Scripture treats the matter. The Holy Spirit knows how future generations will honor and venerate Mary, and if He thought of this as blasphemous or idolatrous, it would be easy to include a word of warning in Scripture against it. But there's no such warning against Marian veneration. Nor is the Holy Spirit silent on the matter of future Marian veneration, either. God-breathed Scripture says, through the lips of Mary, “behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” On what basis can Protestants now say that these prior generations were wrong to do so?