St. Bernardine of Sienna on the Magnificat



“AND Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaiden, for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is His name, and His mercy is from generation to generation to them that fear Him. He hath showed might with His arm, He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their hearts. 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 your fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.”

The love which here manifests itself is called by St. Bernardine the love of “jubilation.” Its nature, he says, is to be always singing and making melody about the Beloved. Mary was wrapt in the most lofty contemplation, her mind entirely occupied with God, and she broke out, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” Her canticle is full of the praises and glorification of God and of thanksgiving for the greatness of His benefits. She first speaks of His great gifts to herself in particular, then of gifts and benefactions which are general to all, and then of the particular and special benefit and mercy to the world of the Incarnation.

We may say a few words concerning each of these heads. Mary does not say that her tongue magnifies the Lord, but her soul, for the soul can understand the greatness of God far better than the tongue can describe it. God had magnified the soul of Mary above all men and angels, He had even Himself become Man in her womb, and now she gives Him back all this greatness, which is His and not hers. She will speak no word of her own greatness, all greatness is His, all His gifts are to be referred to Him. All creatures praise and magnify: Him, she above all. Then she shows her gratitude by exulting and rejoicing in Him. He is her Saviour, her Jesus, her own, He belongs to her more than to all the world. She has no joy but in Him, her thoughts rejoice to dwell on Him, her memory feeds itself upon Him, the salvation which He works out for all the world she rejoices in more than all the world, for it belongs most of all to her.

There are two things in God on which the contemplations of men and of angels are turned with an everlasting gaze of ecstatic wonder–His majesty and His goodness. The first generates chaste fear, the second ardent love. They venerate His majesty and love His goodness. The one requires the other, for love without reverence is a waste, and reverence without love is a pain.

Mary proceeds to speak of the great instance of His goodness, which has been shown in His treatment of her. “Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid, for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” I shall be called blessed not only by one or two, but by all the generations of mankind. She speaks as the one who had been chosen to be the promised Mother, in whose seed all the generations of the world were to be blessed, the Woman between whom and Satan enmities had been placed by God, and who was to crush the head of the serpent under her virgin foot. “He hath regarded her humility,” for her love and choice of humility, as her great virtue, was inspired by Him first, and then next she was chosen and accepted for her humility, and then, again, she was exalted for her humility.

Her humility, then, she says, was the one quality beyond all others for which God looked upon her. She was noble and high born, but God did not regard her noble or royal blood and high rank, for He looketh on those things, that are lowly, and regardeth the lofty afar off. She was beautiful, but beauty is vain. She might have been powerful, but He it is that humbles the mighty. She might have been wise, but God chooses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. Her virginity was beautiful in His eyes, yet it was not that that He looked upon. Nor could He have regarded her prudence, or riches in this world, nor the fact that she had been sanctified in the womb, nor her gifts of prayer and contemplation, nor her watchfulness over her senses, nor even her faith, nor her hope, nor her most wonderful charity. And so she leaves these virtues unspoken of, and says only, “He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid, for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

St. Bernardine says that, by all generations, our Lady means to signify the dwellers in Heaven and on earth and under the earth. For the angels have seen their fall repaired through her, and men have been reconciled to God through her, and the captives detained in Limbus and in Purgatory have been set free through her. So her canticle embraces the future as well as the past and the present, and takes in the course of the world until the end, and the thanksgivings and joys of angels, as well of men, for the grace which has been bestowed upon her. “For He that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is His name,” that is, it seems, He that is mighty and Whose Name is holy, the Omnipotent and the Most Holy, hath done to me and in me great things–great things even in regard to His omnipotence and His holiness, so that He Himself cannot surpass in any created being or thing those most wonderful things of might and of sanctity which He hath done to me His handmaid.

For the union of the Divine Person to the Sacred Humanity, so that her Son, Jesus Christ, should be God and Man in one Divine Person, the Redeemer of the world, and so that she should be the true Mother of God, is a work of power and sanctification which no other Divine work can equal. And yet our Blessed Lady, as St. Bernardine tells us, speaks of these great things in such a way as to preserve her own humility intact, by attributing the whole to God. She had been made able to bear a Son Who was God, but this was all wrought by Him Who is mighty. And she was made so holy that the fruit of her womb should be the Holy of holies, the Son of God, but this is the work of Him Whose name is holy. And He has taken her, the humblest and lowliest of women, to be the person in whom these great things are to be brought about, which surpass all other mighty works either of His power or His sanctity.

St. Bernardine then tells its that our Lady proceeds from magnifying God for the blessings which He had bestowed upon her own person,
to the celebration of His more general favours through the Incarnation which had taken place in her womb. “And His mercy is from generation to generations, to them that fear Him.” He says that the first generation of men had been divided, as it were, into many streams or strains, and among them the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been separated from all others to be God’s own people, to whom the “oracles of God,” the revelation of the future salvation, had been confided, and who had been commissioned to keep alive in the world the knowledge of Him and of His Law. In the fulness of time the separation between Jews and Gentiles was to cease, the wall of partition was to be demolished, the knowledge of God, His law, and the salvation which was to be through her Son, was to become the inheritance of the whole human race.

To be continued….

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