On the feast of the Assumption of Mary, women of the Bible teach us to pray with joy
Today is the feast of the Assumption of Mary, the commemoration of Mary being “taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven” (“Munificentissimus Deus,” No. 40). In the Gospel reading from Luke, we hear the story of the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, the second of the joyful mysteries of the Rosary. Today’s Gospel contains the Magnificat and a part of the Hail Mary. The Magnificat, also called the Song or Canticle of Mary, shares similarities in form and content with the psalms, and it builds on the biblical tradition of canticles attributed to women in the Bible.
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.’ (Lk 1:46-47)
How can Scripture inspire your prayer life?
What is your favorite prayer?
What significance does Mary hold in your life?
The Gospel according to Luke offers unique traditions about Mary and her family. Luke includes background information about Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, and her husband, Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist. After the angel Gabriel announces Jesus’ forthcoming birth, Mary visits Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John. At Mary’s greeting, “the infant leaped in her [Elizabeth’s] womb,” and Elizabeth exclaims: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” John’s reaction in the womb signals Mary’s and Jesus’ significance, as John seems almost to herald Jesus while in utero. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaims that Mary is the mother of God, even without Mary informing her, and she affirms Mary is blessed because of her belief in the annunciation.
Mary’s song of praise follows her interaction with Elizabeth. Mary reacts to her selection to be the mother of God, saying her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and her spirit rejoices at this calling. She also sings praises for God’s protection of the lowly and God’s power of salvation. Like many of the psalmists of the Old Testament, Mary recounts the historical connection between Abraham and his descendants and God’s unending mercy. The song has many of the hallmarks of ancient poems of thanksgiving highlighting God’s ability to overcome obstacles. Both Mary and Elizabeth are examples of this, as they are with child although Elizabeth has been unable to conceive, and Mary is a virgin.
The Old Testament features notable canticles of women that are echoed in today’s Gospel, such as Miriam’s song (Ex 15:20-21), Deborah’s song (Jgs 5:1-31) and Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2:1-10). The prophet Miriam sang in celebration of God’s defeat of the Egyptians in the Exodus. The prophet and military leader Deborah sang of God’s power during military victories, highlighting men and women who were instruments of God. The context of Hannah’s song offers the closest parallels to Mary, as she sings following the birth of her son, the prophet Samuel, after a prolonged period without bearing a child. Like Mary, Hannah begins her song with joy: “My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is exalted by my God” (1 Sm 2:1). Also like Mary, Hannah highlights divine care for the poor and lowly, and she reflects on divine punishment for those who abuse power and resources. Both women, in their moments of selection to be mothers of leaders, rejoice at their calling and celebrate God’s strength and saving power.
Fitting within the biblical traditions of songs and prayers, Mary’s song offers us a model for how to pray, as she expresses joy, reflects on her life, praises God and recognizes God’s impact on history. On this feast of the Assumption of Mary, we honor Mary’s selection, essential role, life and assumption into heaven. We can also be inspired by prayers associated with Mary and can find a good prayer partner in Mary.