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"All generations will call me Blessed" | Reflection for Advent III

Matthew Neugebauer

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Photo by Sor Gaby, FMA on Cathopic..
Luke 1:46-49, 53
Do we have a sense of eternity? If we're honest with ourselves, not really. Yes, we believe in the resurrection of the dead, the reception of the saints to eternal blessedness, and the time of purging in-between. But can we truly say that we've *experienced* eternity?
What's more, we find it hard to grasp the history of creation, the time from the Big Bang to the "passing away" of the "old heavens and earth" envisioned in Revelation 21.
Maybe, just maybe, we have some sense of human history, of our species' six-millenia-long dance of civilization that comprises "all generations." At the very least, I think those six millenia are as long as the concept of a “generation” has been meaningful, since it refers to the lifetimes of our elders and ancestors, the traditions and histories we’ve received from them, and the urban and rural communities we were born into. We do our best to project that history forward, by obeying God's command to "be fruitful and multiply" through our own children, through the societies we build, and hopefully (though we've done our worst to threaten it) through this planet that God calls us to sustain (Genesis 1:26-28).
In fact, we're often anxious to project that history forward when we get concerned about leaving a legacy for ourselves. We hope we can look back on our lives and say, "I really did something. I made an impact on the world going forward." If we're honest, especially at “the hour of our death,” we'll know we didn't and couldn't perfectly achieve that legacy. We might have some sense of whether or not those who outlive us will call us “blessed” or even “saint,” but we can't possibly be certain of that. We will also have regrets, or at least recognize all the missed opportunities, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
“Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48)
On the lips of literally anyone else, this assertion would be the height of arrogance. We might especially bristle at the speaker’s conviction – “Surely…all generations will call me blessed.” It sounds like one of those over-confident alpha-male heroes or self-made men that many of us no longer trust all that much. For fans of recent Marvel shows out there – 2021’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier offers an artistic example of our contemporary distrust of claims to heroism. I’m thinking of the way the series follows Wyatt Russell’s morally convoluted John Walker on his quest to inherit the Captain America mantle left by the shining knight that was Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers. Nowadays we’re more likely to believe that Walker and those like him are truly anti-heroes, rather than accept that Rogers is a genuine hero.
As we know, this isn't the self-important assertion of a Lamech or a Nimrod (see Genesis 4:23-24 and 10:10 respectively). “All generations will call me blessed” expresses the confident awareness of a young woman plumbing the depths of the mystery enfolding her. It's the exultant spirit of the Virgin Mother of God, magnifying her Lord and rejoicing in her Saviour (Luke 1:46-47). She doesn’t point to her own achievements, or her own strength. Instead, she recalls that God “has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant” (v. 48). Her name will be known for “all generations” purely because “the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (v. 49).
What has God done for her? What has he given her? He has not only given her a sense of human history, eternity, and everything in-between. As she visits her cousin Elizabeth, she truly has eternity within her, the Holy Name of the Almighty literally growing in her womb. She bears the Saviour of the world, the one who holds the very scroll of time in his hand (Revelation 5) and gathers all of created existence before God. Yet he is undergoing a moment of createdness himself, through the very process of birth common to all of us.
(More dogmatic theology incoming!) As the Council of Ephesus ultimately concluded, we can't separate God from the human Jesus. This means that we can’t separate the co-eternal Word of God from the humanity experienced by Jesus, including his death, and including his birth. What’s more, the Incarnation is how God gives our lives, our existence, the meaning that he claims for himself. He declares that we are meant for loving union with God, precisely by uniting himself with us and the whole breadth and depth of our existence. As St. John of the Cross so movingly put it
“In perfect love
this law holds:
that the lover become
like the one he loves.”
While the Council Fathers at Ephesus reflected on the mystery of the Incarnation, they were led inevitably to this paradox: the God of eternity has a human mother, and her name is Mary.
Mary of Nazareth hasn't simply "left a legacy" or "made a mark." In her humility, she won’t boast in her own actions, her own choices. Nevertheless, we call her “blessed,” because her participation in God's saving plan has decisively changed humanity forever. She was offered a unique role in God's saving union with humanity and with creation: to give God his human face, and his human life. To that offer, she simply said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (v. 38).
“All generations will call me blessed.”
As we know, the Spirit of God has ensured that this exclamation of the Mother of God would come true. Thanksgiving for Mary's unique role began with the Scriptural origins of the Church, such as in the accounts of her and the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the cross (John 19:26), her presence with the Apostles after the Ascension and at Pentecost (Acts 1:14), the image of the crowned woman in Revelation 12:1, and, indeed, St. Luke's intentional inclusion of her Song of Praise in his Gospel account.
On this Third Sunday of Advent, portions of this Song of Mary – known as the Magnificat for its opening word in Latin – take the place usually given to a Psalm of David. For much of the history of the Western Church, the Magnificat has found its place on the lips of clergy and religious in their daily recitation of Vespers or Evening Prayer. It's had a particular influence in the English-speaking world, since it forms the centrepiece of the Anglican service of Evensong. That service, so prevalent throughout the modern era and now part of the Roman Catholic liturgical family through the Ordinariates, has received its fair share of magnificent choral settings over the last few centuries. Here’s an early example of a setting by William Byrd, a distinctive composer who navigated both sides of the English Reformation:
From the moment that Mary of Nazareth uttered her Song of Praise to today, all generations have truly called her "Blessed."

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