Magnifying Lass

Repeat the Magnificat, making our own the sentiments expressed in it.  Always recite this canticle with special attention and meditate on it.  The Church prescribes it for us every day in the Liturgy of the Hours, at Vespers.  Since we recite it all too routinely, we know it only superficially.  (Titus Brandsma, Carmelite Priest and Martyr at Dachau.)

My soul doth magnify the Lord.  That’s how I grew up saying it from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

To magnify is to enlarge, to make greater.  So most translations render Mary’s words something like My soul glorifies the Lord (NIV) or, in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.

I found myself rolling with Titus Brandsma’s encouragement to meditate on Mary’s song of praise, and it was the old word magnify that caught my attention.

Mary’s role as a soul that would uniquely magnify God – that is, enlarge God’s greatness – is fraught with irony:

  • The omnipresent Lord spends nine months in the confinement of Mary’s womb.
  • The Word who was in the beginning, creating all things, shares the gestational dependence and fragility of a creature.
  • The one who is the source of all things is nourished through Mary’s body.
  • The all-knowing, all-seeing Christ is carried about in the body of one who must treasure things in her heart and ponder because her understanding is not immediate.

The Lord’s greatness is magnified in the smallness provided by Mary’s being.  The greatness that is magnified is Emmanuel – God with us in Christ Jesus.  All of the “omnis” – omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence – are tempered by the magnificent love that chooses to share our mortal smallness in order to make us eternally great in God’s kingdom.

Detail of an icon of Our Lady of Walsingham

What is to magnify but to take that which is small, even that which is invisible, and reveal its astounding complexity and vitality?

Think of a moth’s wings through a magnifying glass or a cell through a microscope or any of the building blocks of creation made visible by our technology.

Mary’s soul is God’s chosen instrument to magnify what Dante called the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

Hail Mary, full of grace.  The Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.


Sinking and Rising

And you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters.  (Nehemiah 9:11)20161007_092643

You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them. (Nehemiah 9:15)20161007_095252

Praying with a friend at the Falls of the Big Sioux River today, the setting and the words of Scripture reminded me that our baptism into Christ drowns the forces that would enslave us to sin and death, while opening a spring of living water that will raise us to eternal life in Christ’s kingdom.