The Magnificat as Cry for Social Justice?

In Luke 1:46-55, Mary cries out what in first century Roman Palestine must have been a fairly audacious thing to say, much less during the course of her visitation to Elizabeth. At the end of the Magnificat, the Gospel says that Mary stayed for three months with Elizabeth, presumably at the place in Judah where her cousin lived.

Notably, the Gospel (verses 39-40) describes Mary as traveling “in haste” from Nazareth in Galilee – a place of great foment near Mt. Tabor – to the home of her cousin in Judah.

The Gospel of Luke seems to put Mary in a very different light than does the Gospel of Matthew. It seems that the Magnificat’s text on social justice is not a core part of Catholic devotion. What can we learn about Mary from the various depictions we see of her?

As you meditate on this, you may also want to read the Song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10).

The Magnificat has a very prominent place in Catholic devotion. It is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God, not directly a call to social justice, but it does take for granted the desirability of benevolence for the poor and of evil rulers getting their just deserts, and perhaps specifically spiritual benefit of poverty. There had been similar themes in the Old Testament prophets, and the Magnificat may in fact be an adaptation of an earlier hymn.

I would call a class-struggle reading of the prayer a perversion of its meaning, though.

If you mean by “social justice,” that Jesus Christ is coming back to judge every individual and the whole world, then sure. This is a classic statement about That Day as prophesied in the OT, and about God’s current intervention in Mary’s life and in general in the individual lives of His faithful people.

But it’s pretty clearly all about God taking the initiative in Mary’s life.

This is important to say, because there were slightly later Jewish apocryphal works predicting that one of the later Messiah candidates’ mom was going to come riding into Israel at the head of an invading army, slicing off heads as she went. That’s social justice, if you like.

(I can’t remember which Messiah candidate this was, but I recall that it didn’t go well for him.)

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