Our Rich Liturgical
Heritage: Mary's Song
Our Rich Liturgical Heritage
by The Rt Revd Dr Peter Brain
Some years ago, I was in conversation with a lady who suggested that I would be a better bishop if I prayed to God through Mary! After explaining that I had no need to pray in this way since there is Saviour who has opened the way for all believers to enter into God’s presence, I was able to assure her that we say/sing Mary’s song at Evening Prayer.
Mary could not be our mediator, since like us, she was both human and sinful. Her Son however, being God and sinless man, could deal with our sins and is our High Priest, mediator and advocate (Hebrews 4:14-16, 1Timothy 2:5, 1 John 2:2). Mary, however, provides a clear example of how to respond to God’s promises every time they are read (Luke 11:27-28).
Mary’s song, found in Luke 1:46-55, helps us grasp why our liturgies are so full of Scripture. For a young woman to respond in the way she did to Gabriel’s news, that she would soon conceive by the Holy Spirit One who would add humanity to His Divinity, can only be understood in the light of her knowledge of the Old Testament promises of a Messiah.
As a Godly young Jewish woman, she was able to recall these promises and exclaim: He has come to the aid of His servant Israel: to remember His promise of mercy, the promise made to our forebears: to Abraham and his children for ever. With the message from Gabriel and the encouragement of her relative Elizabeth, she exclaimed My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord: my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, Who has looked with favour on his lowly servant: from this day all generations will call me blessed.
It is no surprise that Mary’s Song comes after the Old Testament reading, since 61 of its 102 verses are phrases from the Old Testament. Jesus came to fulfil the priestly, prophetic and kingly ministries of the Old Covenant and Mary rejoices in her role in this great display of God’s graceful faithfulness. Our response to the reading of both Old and New Testaments, is modelled by Mary and will include: Our rejoicing in God as my Saviour.
Mary’s son must become our Saviour, if we are to understand and experience God’s greatness and favour. We will read all the Scriptures through gospel lens. Furthermore, like Mary we will fear him whose name is holy. We will neither cringe from God, nor treat him casually. Rather, recognising Him as the Almighty, who shows both mercy and strength along with scattering the proud and filling the hungry, we may confidently come as a lowly servant.
Every time we come together, as Mary did when she met with Elizabeth, we too have the privilege of hearing God’s word, no longer from angels since we have the fulfilled and complete Biblical canon. This too is the gracious product of the meeting of the Divine and human authors (2 Peter 1:21) as we affirm of Jesus in the Creed conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.
Her pattern of humble listening and obedient response ensures that we too might be the hungry whom God has filled with good things and mercifully, not counted among those self-sufficient rich, sent away empty. Hers is the abiding pattern for the enjoyment and sharing of real riches.