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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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