“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!”
Our Blessed Mother is, first and foremost, a woman of praise. When the Angel Gabriel asked her to be the mother of the Messiah, she praised God with her actions, which humbly said yes. When she visited with Elizabeth, and was honoured as the “mother of the Lord”, her instinct was neither to reject the honour given her, nor to luxuriate in it, but to give glory to God. So today, I think we must ask ourselves two complementary questions. “How can I give honour to Mary? And how can I give glory to God?”
Pope Francis recently wrote a letter to the world’s priests, and he included these words:
How can we speak about gratitude and encouragement without looking to Mary? She, the woman whose heart was pierced, teaches us the praise capable of lifting our gaze to the future and restoring hope to the present. Her entire life was contained in her song of praise. We too are called to sing that song as a promise of future fulfilment.
Mary’s song is a song in honour of God. Sometimes we sing Mary songs at Sunday Mass – but not too often, and that’s appropriate. What are we doing at Mass? We’re giving thanks to God the Father by offering him the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of his beloved Son. Nothing could please Our Father more – and nothing could please our Blessed Mother more, either. St John XXIII is widely quoted as having said, “The Madonna is not pleased when she is put above her son!”
When we do sing to honour Mary, what do we sing? As I Kneel Before You is an act of entrusting our lives to Mary, that she may present us to God. Hail Mary – Gentle Woman takes the familiar Hail Mary prayer and adds affectionate titles, allowing us to come alongside Elizabeth in calling Mary blessed among all women. There are many verses to Immaculate Mary, Our Hearts are On Fire, but most of them express prayers for ourselves and for souls in need, explicitly or implicitly commending these intentions to Mary’s own prayers.
You might be familiar with the Latin Salve Regina which asks Mary to walk with us in times of sorrow and lead us to Jesus. Bring Flowers of the Rarest only really makes sense when we sing it May and place a crown of flowers upon an image of our Blessed Mother. I’ll sing a Hymn To Mary only just manages to do what the first line suggests – it’s much more about declaring who Mary is than about asking her for help (and in this case, help to sing a song about her!)
Whenever we sing to Mary, or pray to her, we are walking a tightrope between going too far and ignoring her. Mary has no power of her own. When we pray to her it’s because we trust her to bring our needs perfectly before the throne of God. When we sing to her, we are seeking to honour her without offering the kind of worship which belongs to God alone. Other Christians might ask why we bother to do this at all, but the answer is in today’s Gospel: “All generations will call me blessed,” says Mary. It’s balanced that every Sunday we worship the Father by offering the Body of Jesus, and once a year we all come together to honour Mary.
Some of us might feel more comfortable entrusting our prayers to Our Lady than to Our Lord or Our Father, and that’s OK – as long as, if we’re in the habit of “asking Mary for things”, we remember that she can only give us what she has received from God. But since God has filled her with the fullness of all grace, what she has to share with us is not inconsiderable! We can also talk to Mary, as a child might talk to its mother, and we can hear Pope Francis again, this time rembering how Our Lady appeared to St Juan Diego at Guadalupe:
Whenever I visit a Marian shrine, I like to spend time looking at the Blessed Mother and letting her look at me. I pray for a childlike trust, the trust of the poor and simple who know that their mother is there, and that they have a place in her heart. And in looking at her, to hear once more, like the Indian Juan Diego: “My youngest son, what is the matter? Do not let it disturb your heart. Am I not here, I who have the honour to be your mother?”
We can also learn much by thinking about Mary as a role model. She was an unmarried mother; a Palestinian refugee in Africa; a confident mother at the Wedding at Cana; a strong woman at the foot of the Cross. Pope Francis reminds us:
To contemplate Mary is “to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her, we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong, who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves”.
But who are the weak and who are the strong? In her Magnificat, Mary sings of a God who casts down the mighty and lifts up the lowly. St Paul once said that God’s power was made perfect in his weakness; when he was weak, then he was strong. God’s ways, Mary’s ways, are not the ways of the world. When we are strong, let us ask Our Blessed Mother for the grace to yield to God. When we are weak, let us ask her to obtain for us what we need. I’ll give the last words to a traditional hymn:
O bless us, dear Lady,
With blessings from heaven,
And to our petitions
Let answer be given.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!
Ave, Ave Maria!