"Critiquing Canticles: a 21 Day Devotional for a Doubt-filled Age" by Tony Hilling
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:47)
As a young boy 12 years old, I left my home in Scotland and went to a Roman Catholic seminary in the north of England. At that time the liturgy of the RC church was still done completely in Latin. Every Sunday evening at the conclusion of Vespers (Evening Prayer), we would sing the Canticle of Mary. Now, more than fifty years later, I can still hear in my heart the beautiful tones of the Gregorian Chant: “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.”
Mary’s Canticle was reported to us originally in Greek. But her first two phrases still reveal a characteristic of Hebrew poetry: a couplet which simply states the same idea twice. A similar example would be the opening of Psalm 103. “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”
The intention of the original writer is then to hit the main idea twice. Therefore, Psalm 103:1 and Luke 1:46 are saying essentially the same thing: praise and worship the Lord God with the very core of our being.
The context of the Canticle is a conversation between two women who had good reason to praise God: the previously barren Elizabeth was now carrying God’s messenger; Mary was carrying His only Son. But not only this, there has been a great absence of revelation from God over the past four hundred years. Some ancient commentators called it the Four Hundred Years of Silence. And now God is speaking very loudly indeed; more reason to praise Him. But do we praise God only when we have a clear reason to rejoice in something?
For the Christian there is something normative about praise of God; it must be done daily regardless of the circumstances. I remember listening to a message by Allan Vincent, a British missionary then resident in the U.S. He shared with us that in the Holy Land they have two main types of figs: the summer figs and the winter figs. The summer figs are planted in the Spring and harvested in the Fall. They are the fruit of the warm season and can be insipid. The winter figs are planted in the Fall and harvested in the Spring. They have to endure the cold season in the Holy Land. These figs are firm and juicy.
We must praise God daily in our lives, but especially in the difficult times for then it is real praise. Our praise of God becomes like the winter figs. The prophet Habakkuk echoes this attitude at 3:17 &18, where he writes that though there be no fruit on the vines or figs or olive trees, nor any cattle in the stall,
“…Yet, I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.” Such an attitude of mind bespeaks faith, trust and devotion to God beyond whatever He can do for us. It was Mary’s attitude; it must become ours.