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Basis for the Magnificant?
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Q: Did Mary, the mother of Jesus, study Scripture? I have noticed that the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) sounds very much like the Canticle of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

Is there a connection? Also, did someone present at Mary's visit to Elizabeth immediately write down the Magnificat? This prayer is so beautiful that it brings tears to my eyes when I read it.

A: Yes, the Magnificat (which is part of the Gospel for the feast of the Visitation, May 31) is very similar to the Canticle of Hannah. The author of the Magnificat (its first words in Latin are "Magnificat anima mea," which translates, "My soul magnifies...") probably adapted the earlier text.

The Bible presents Hannah, Samuel's mother, as praying this song of praise when she brought her son to Shiloh, to thank the Lord for his birth.

In the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Robert Karris, O.F.M., writes: "Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), which elicits reflection upon the nature of the God active in Jesus' conception, can be easily divided into 1:46-50 and 1:51-55. The first stanza deals with Mary, and the second universalizes from Mary's experience to reflect upon God's dealing with all humanity....These verses have many Old Testament parallels, especially the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-11....

"They stem from a pre-Lucan Greek source. Luke has modified the reversal theology of this revolutionary canticle by creating verse 48 [‘For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed'] and by situating it within the flow of his Gospel, which admonishes the rich to share their possessions and which enjoins peace and love of enemies."

(In the quotation above, I omitted two bibliographical references and added the full text of verse 48.)

The Magnificat is such a beautiful prayer that the Church uses it every day at Evening Prayer, in the Liturgy of the Hours. It perfectly summarizes Mary's faith and trust in God and is also the longest direct quote from any woman in the New Testament. In the Women's Bible Commentary, author Jane Schaberg writes: "The Magnificat is the great New Testament song of liberation—personal and social, moral and economic—a revolutionary document of intense conflict and victory."

The Church does not guarantee that the text we read in the Gospel of Luke is exactly what you would have gotten if you had been present with a tape recorder at Mary's visit to Elizabeth. The Bible has a wider sense of authorship than that. This also holds true for the Canticles of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) and of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32).

Yes, Mary studied Scripture in the sense that she heard it read and explained by rabbis during synagogue services. In her day, young women did not have the same opportunities to study Scripture that young men had.

Praying the Magnificat can encourage us to follow Mary's example and offer a generous response to God's grace.

Q: If 100,000 people throughout the many countries of the world prayed the Rosary at the same time, would the Mother of God know personally each of the 100,000 individuals praying the Rosary?

If I have a Mass offered "in honor of Our Lady," does she know that I am doing that? Does this Mass add in any way to her glory? If not, why have a Mass offered "in honor of Our Lady"?

A: Yes, Mary knows the individuals praying the Rosary and those having Masses offered. A Mass celebrated in Mary's honor cannot add to her glory in heaven, which is already perfect. It should, however, encourage you and other people to respond as generously to God's grace as she did—and so join her heavenly glory as a saint.

It is always good to celebrate the Eucharist, to reconnect our lives with the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. The words that the celebrant addresses to God the Father in Weekday Preface IV could have come from Mary herself: "Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness, but makes us grow in your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

May your prayer always be as honest and as connected to faith-filled actions as Mary's prayer was!

Q: We are Catholics and so is our son, who recently married a Catholic woman. Her father is Catholic but her mother is Episcopalian. They were married by an Episcopal priest but are planning to be married by a Catholic priest.

Does the Catholic Church consider them as living in sin until they are married in the Catholic Church? Is a Catholic wedding even necessary? Is it required for them to receive the sacraments?

A: Theoretically, they might have sought a "dispensation from canonical form" (requirement for a Catholic to marry before a priest, deacon or someone previously authorized by the Catholic Church). If that happened here, then the Catholic Church considers that marriage as much a valid, sacramental marriage as if it had been witnessed by a Catholic priest or deacon in a Catholic parish.

To make those arrangements, a couple must contact a local parish, which requests this dispensation from the local bishop.

If your son and daughter-in-law did not receive that dispensation—and if neither of them has an ex-spouse living and the Catholic Church agrees that each one is free to marry the other one—then it should be rather easy to arrange for a "convalidation" (the Catholic Church's official recognition of a civil marriage).

This is often not a full-scale wedding but rather a fairly private ceremony where they exchange their marriage vows before a priest or deacon, plus friends and family members.

This requires a fairly minimal amount of paperwork (copies of baptismal records for your son and daughter-in-law, plus an official record of their marriage as witnessed by an Episcopal priest).

Q: My fiancée and I have been advised that we ought to consider having a prenuptial agreement to avoid possible complications in the future.

Is this simply a preemptive measure in case the marriage does not succeed? Does the Catholic Church have any position for or against prenuptial agreements?

A: I consulted a moral theologian who responded: "I think you hit the heart of the matter when you referred to the arrangements as a preparation for the possible demise of the marriage. The purpose of these arrangements is often to protect both parties financially, and in other ways, should the marriage fail.

"To enter into marriage with such a presumption is contrary to our Catholic understanding of this sacrament. We expect couples to enter into a permanent, exclusive union, open to the possibility of children—and all of this with no strings attached, no ‘arrangements' against failure.

"The whole concept seems to be contrary to our understanding of marriage as a total sharing of two lives. How can you have a total sharing when prearrangements have been worked out?"

Any prenuptial agreement with language about the permanence, exclusivity and openness to children must reflect the public promises that each spouse will make during a Catholic wedding.

They can help in one situation. If a widow with adult children marries a widower who also has adult children, a prenuptial agreement can be a legitimate way of identifying common property as well as separate property, the basis for estates to be divided among each spouse's children.

Q: I recently received an e-mail saying that the Assyrian Church of the East is an "ancient Christian Church" in Iraq. I have never heard of this Church. What is it and where did it come from?

A: The Assyrian Church of the East is a real Church. It predates the Orthodox Church (1054 A.D.) because it separated from other Christians over the Nestorian controversy (addressed at the Council of Ephesus, 431 A.D.). The Nestorians said that Christ had two persons (one human and one divine). The other Christians maintained that Christ had two natures (divine and human) within a single person.

In 1994, Mar Dinkha IV (their leader) and Pope John Paul II signed a Common Christological Declaration, affirming that the Assyrian Church of the East accepts the substance of the teaching about Christ adopted at the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.). Two years later, Mar Dinkha IV and Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, signed a statement on cooperation, which these two Churches are using.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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