On the 22nd December, we have two interesting texts in the liturgy of the word of the Mass: one on Hannah, and her son Samuel 1 Samuel 1:24-28 and one on Mary Luke 1:46-56. When the Church pairs these two readings, so close to Christmas, she obviously sees in Hannah a prefiguration of Mary.
Hannah, who is barren, prays to Yahweh for a son who she promises to return to Him if he hears her prayer. This leads us to Mary who must have prayed, as the whole people of Israel was praying, for the Messiah to come just as Zechariah was praying in the Temple when it was his turn to serve. Mary prayed with such fervour and such a pure heart that God heard her and Jesus was conceived in her.
Yahweh heard Hannah’s prayer ‘as she made this vow, ’Yahweh Sabaoth! Should you condescend to notice the humiliation of your servant and keep her in mind instead of disregarding your servant, and give her a boy, I will give him to Yahweh for the whole of his life’’ (1S1:11).
When she conceives and the child is weaned she honours her promise and brings him back to Eli at the temple. ‘This is the child for which I was praying, and Yahweh has granted me what I asked of Him. Now I make him over to Yahweh for the whole of his life. He is made over to Yahweh’.
This image, which resonates in us and must have resonated in Mary’s heart as she goes on to use words very similar to those Hannah uses in her prayer in her own Magnificat, brings us to the foot of the Cross. Here, Mary is standing, and having of course presented her child to the Lord at the presentation according to the Law, now makes Him, her Son, over – as Hannah did – to the Father forever.
For although the Magnificat is sang when she acknowledge the greatness of the Lord when Elizabeth gives her confirmation of the annunciation of the angel that she will bear a son, Mary already foresees a total giving up of her son as Hannah had done by echoing Hannah’s words (which she must have known well from Scripture). In 1S2 Hannah then prayed as follows:
|‘My heart exults in Yahweh’||‘my spirit exults in God my saviour’|
|‘In my God is my strength lifted up’||‘He has shown the power of his arm’|
|‘My mouth derides my foes, For I rejoice in your deliverance’||‘my spirit exults in God my saviour’|
|‘There is no Holy One like Yahweh’||‘Holy is His name’|
|‘Indeed, there is none but you, No Rock like our God’||‘the Almighty has done great things for me’|
|‘Do not keep talking proudly, Let no arrogance come from your mouth’||‘he has rooted the proud of heart’|
|‘For Yahweh is a wise God, His to weigh up deeds’||‘his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him’|
|‘The bow of the mighty has been broken, But those who were tottering, Are now braced with strength’||‘He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly’|
|‘The full fed are hiring themselves out for bread, But the hungry need labour no more’||‘The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.’|
|‘Yahweh gives death and life, brings down to Sheol and draws up; Yahweh makes poor and rich, He humbles and also exhalts.’|
‘He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the dunghill, To give them a place with princes, To assign them a seat of honour’
|‘because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed’|
|‘For to Yahweh belong the pillars, Of the earth, On these he has poised the world’||‘for the Almighty has done great things for me’|
|‘He safeguards the steps of his faithful’||‘He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever’|
|‘But the wicked vanish in darkness, For human strength can win no victories. Yahweh, his enemies are shattered, The Most High thunders in the heavens.’|
‘Yahweh judges the ends of the earth, He endows his King with power, He raises up the strength of his Anointed.’
Luke has, interestingly, even constructed this part of his gospel according to the structure of the text in 1 Samuel. He states right after the Magnificat that ‘Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home’ (Luke 1:56). In 1S2:11 it states “Elkanah (who is the husband of Hannah and so she would have been with him) then went home to Raman , but the child stayed in Yahweh’s service, in the presence of Eli the priest.”
It is almost as if Luke is already telling us that Mary in her Magnificat – whilst at the same time acknowledging her receiving of the Son of God in her womb as her son – is also leaving her Son (even though He is yet to be born) in God’s service. Mary is already offering him up to God the Father as she would at the foot of the Cross. She empties herself completely of what is most precious to her, in order to three days later be filled with the Resurrection, to receive all in her Son. As St John of the Cross would say: from a whole journey/life of nada (nothing, total offering of oneself to God, total detachment ) one receives Todo (Everything, the resurrected Lord).
Mary loses all to gain all. Her role at the Cross is already encompassed in her singing of the Magnificat because she exults in her saviour and Mary is saved by the fruit of the Cross.
There is but one offering – the offering of Jesus of Himself to the Father on the Cross – and we must unite ourselves to this offering. This is the offering celebrated in the mass. We are baptised as priests, which gives us this capacity of offering, but our own human offering will never be sufficient. (Hosea 6:6 ‘for faithful love is what pleases me, not sacrifice; knowledge of God, not burnt offerings’). If we entrust ourselves to Mary unconditionally, with complete trust, (Mary, I entrust myself wholly to you, humbly, like a child) we have access to the same faith and hope and love that she had. She was given to us as our Mother. Through her, inside her pure heart, we can have full access to Jesus, to the Truth. We have access to the Holy Spirit as she is full of Grace, filled with the Holy Spirit.
We then, when we are in her, are participating in this fullness of grace and with her, through her, in her pray with her – for her intentions, trusting her to know what is our Good. What does she pray for – what we were all taught to pray for – the Holy Spirit for us. That we may be filled by the Holy Spirit in order to be transformed into another perfect Son (or daughter ) of hers. We remain with her until we are formed in her heart by the Holy Spirit into Jesus Himself and participate as perfectly in His offering to the Father as she did.
Every time we participate in the Mass in her heart, united to His heart, every time we say the Rosary in her heart, every time we pray silently in her heart, every time we contemplate scripture through her pure heart, we are united automatically, immediately to the heart of Jesus and are also filled by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit which transforms and purifies us, which makes us into other Christs. What power there lies in her heart!
Mary seemed to be alone when she offered her Son to the Father, when she participated in her son’s offering. She must have had Hannahs words in her heart ‘Now I make Him over to the Lord for the whole of His life.’ And when Jesus said ‘it is fulfilled’ (John19:30) she said in her heart ‘he is made over to the Lord’ (1S1:28) But she was not alone: she had already received us as her children in her heart and merited for us all the chance of participating in her offering of her Son to the Father.
So, in Mary, we can participate in this offering. In this most noble work of salvation in which she participates. In her we can offer Jesus to the Father for our brothers and sisters. We can love Jesus as she loves Him and as she is united perfectly to Jesus we can with their love, love the Father.
O King of all the nations,
The only joy of every human heart;
Of the mighty arch of man:
Come and save
The creature you fashioned
from the dust.