The humility which Mary embodied is perfectly illustrated by the MAGNIFICAT”;
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1: 47-55)
This “canticle”, or song, was, most likely, known and used by Mary herself. It was a song of hope for the Jews who lived in the Greco-Roman period. The first four lines, or first two couplets speak to Mary praising God for what He intends to do and her faithful acceptance and response to the Divine plan. She combines common elements from Jewish and Greek thought to establish the dynamics of the song. She refers to her “soul”, in Greek it is psuche and in Hebrew it is nephesh. It means the life essence of a person. She parallels this with the term “spirit”, in Greek this is pneuma and in Hebrew it is ruach. It means the physical strength and vigor of a person. This paralleling of terms means that her entire person, spiritual and physical is extolling God.
She continues to say that God has looked with favor upon his humble servant. With this term, she is placing herself in a group known as the “anawim”, the lowly and poor, in wealth and spirit, in Roman society. With this term she establishes a brilliant contrast. God sits on the pinnacle of Creation. The wealthy and haughty sit at the pinnacle of society. The anawim are the lowest class. However, God upsets this hierarchy. God, above all, interacts with both the wealthy and the anawim. Only God lifts up the lowly and casts down the wealthy and cruel oppressors. What was once proud is brought low and the lowly lifted to the heights. No longer will the haughty and corrupt be allowed to be cruel to lowly. As far as the anawim is from the rich in this life is now how far the rich is from God.
Mary has made humility a Christian virtue. It is now looked upon as a quality to be developed. It is a quality that finds favor with God. He lifts up the lowly the way society has lifted up the wealthy. God interacts with each group, the lowly and wealthy, but in an opposite, mirror, way. In her quiet way, in her song, Mary moves against major philosophical thoughts that dominated the Greco-Roman period. Extreme feelings or actions were not approved of in the educated circles of society. Temperance, a middle ground, was praised. Humility, according to Aristotelian thought, could even be considered a vice as it was an extreme mindset. Mary dismantled this philosophical juggernaut by elevating humility. By the humility of which she lived and spoke she showed how humility gains the notice, favor, and help of God.