Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Second Joyful Mystery

Him Whom You Carried
When You Visited Elizabeth
The Annunciation

Before I get into the main reflection for this post, I'd like to take a minute to point out something that's just plain cool.  Luke highlights for us in his narrative of the birth of Christ that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, and her journey to the hill country gives us one of the easiest examples to see.  

When we read 2 Samuel 6:9-14, we find David receiving the Ark of the Covenant.  He at first exclaims, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?" after which he sends it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite (within walking distance of where Mary went to stay with Elizabeth).  Verse 11 tells us that the ark stayed there for three months, blessing Obed-edom and his whole house.

After those three months, he has the ark brought into the City of David, where David himself, "...came dancing before the LORD with abandon," much as the infant John leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb at the sound of Mary's voice.

Mary, Ark of the New Covenant, Pray for us!

And now, on to the main reflection.

After being greeted by her cousin, Mary proclaims the Magnificat (Magnificat anima Dei - My soul doth magnify the Lord):

My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty,
hath done great things to me;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is from generation unto generations,
to them that fear him.
He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel his servant,
being mindful of his mercy:
As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed for ever.
First off, this is a beautiful hymn reminiscent of the praise of Hannah - the prophet Samuel's mother - when she gave him to the temple as she had promised (1 Sam. 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8):
...and as she worshiped the LORD, she said:  
"My heart exults in the LORD, 
my horn is exalted in my God. 
I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in my victory. 
The bows of the mighty are broken, 
while the tottering gird on strength. 
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, 
while the hungry batten on spoil. 
The barren wife bears seven sons, 
while the mother of many languishes. 
"The LORD puts to death and gives life; he casts down to the nether world; 
he raises up again. 
The LORD makes poor and makes rich, 
he humbles, he also exalts. 
He raises the needy from the dust; 
from the ash heap he lifts up the poor, 
To seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage. 
He gives to the vower his vow, and blesses the sleep of the just. 
"For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, and he has set the world upon them."
Secondly, it is also a look at the character of God, who He is insofar as the actions He takes in our world.  As cliché as we might feel that it gets sometimes to hear our pastors talking about how God's standards are different, and how he doesn't use the same measuring sticks we do (power, fame, 'importance,' et cetera), it isn't cliché, it's the truth.  He even says it through the authors of scripture: 
But the LORD said to Samuel: "Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7)

There is a particular line in Mary's proclamation which sometimes troubles people, and which is often mistranslated - the first one.  Magnificat anima DEI - My Soul magnifies the LORD.  Some translations render magnificat as "proclaims the greatness of," or "exults," or "praises."  I'm sure the translation committees had their good intentions, but the literal translation is Magnifies.

This led to a question in a group lectio I was in over this passage - "If God is infinite, and magnification makes things bigger, how can Mary's soul magnify Him?  Doesn't that mean she would be making God bigger?"

The answer that I have found, both through the priest leading us at that time as well as in personal contemplation and discussion with my wife is twofold: yes, and no.

If we are to accept that Mary was correct, and that her soul did indeed magnify the Lord, then perhaps we should look at what magnification is, and what a magnifier does.  Magnification comes from the Latin words for "big" and "make," so in a literal sense it does mean, "make bigger."  However, if we look at the operation of a magnifier, say a magnifying glass, the physical object we look at does not actually become bigger - its appearance to us does.  

Stated another way, the sun is intense an very hot, and standing out in it for too long will give you a sunburn because it is so hot and intense.  That being said, it will not start things on fire.  If, however, you take a magnifying glass and focus the light of the sun to one spot on a leaf or a twig, if the conditions are right it will light up and start burning.  You didn't make the sun bigger, nor did you intensify the sun, you sort of... condensed it. 

This is similar to how Mary acts in our lives.  She does not make God "bigger" insomuch as she makes Him more apparent to us.  She is the voice saying, "Do whatsoever he tells you."  Also, through her intercession and prayers, she can "intensify" His love and actions in our life by adding her desire that our prayer be granted.  As James said: "The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful," and who is more righteous than the ever-sinless, ever-virgin Theotokos?

That's the "No," here's the "Yes."

I just said that Mary's action as magnifier is to intensify His light and love, to make it more apparent, not necessarily in making Him bigger.

However, how better to make a person bigger than to carry them in your womb for 9 months, and then to nourish and care for them as they grow from infant to adult?  While she models for us how to magnify Him in the first sense, she received the special blessing of being able to magnify Him in reality, giving the Word-made-Flesh His Flesh.  This "Light from Light" who became "True God and True Man" was incarnated into our nature through her fiat, and through her maternity was brought closer to us, the very thing a magnifying glass seems to do.

So, Mary does magnify the Lord, both by physically giving Him life and raising Him, and also by interceding for us before her Son.   This is one of the many reasons for which which the infant John the Baptist leapt for joy in His mother's womb.

Mary, Ark of the New Covenant, 
Whose Soul Magnifies the LORD,
Draw us closer to your Son,
the Word-made-Flesh.
Let us dance before him in joy as did John the Baptist,
and let us imitate you by bringing Him to others.
Mary, who carried Christ in your womb when you visited your cousin, pray for us!

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