Luke 1:46-55 – Mary’s Prophecy (the Magnificat)
SummaryMary praises God, characterizing God as one who cares for the lowly and frustrates the intentions of the powerful.
AnalysisMary's extended statement of praise (often called the Magnificat, the first word of the Latin translation of her statement) comes in response to her relative Elizabeth's Spirit-inspired words in 1:41-45, which confirm what the angel Gabriel promised Mary in 1:26-35. As with the other two "canticles" in Luke 1-2 (the Benedictus and the Nunc dimittis), the words of the Magnificat come from numerous passages in the Old Testament. The specific form and themes of Mary's praise closely resemble those in Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, which comes after the birth of that woman's son, the Prophet Samuel.
The Magnificat does not speak directly about Jesus; rather, it is a description of God. It moves at a rapid pace, progressing through a series of strong, decisive verbs that characterize God's actions throughout Israel's history. Mary speaks about a God who reverses things, who is capable of overturning human authority and structures. Her statement begins by speaking about God's recent actions on her behalf (vv. 47-49) and then turns its attention to God's activity on behalf of and against others (vv. 50-55). Mary is announcing that her story, God's choice of blessing her to bear God's Son, is a part of the ongoing drama of God's activity in the world. This casts Mary as a prophet, one who boldly interprets her experience in light of God and God's history.