created by a nun in Switzerland c.1450-75, now in the Glasgow Museums.
“O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, lead their praises, Alleluia!” Many do not realize that these words beginning the second verse of hymn 618 in The Hymnal 1982 refer to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The verse continues, “Thou bearer of the eternal Word, most gracious, magnify the Lord…” This magnificent hymn names all the company of heaven joined in praise to God as we are invited to join the chorus. Mary is the choir director.
Jim was the choir director in my home parish when I was in high school. It was he who invited me to consider the possibility of a life lived in Christ at a time when I was searching and not sure about anything related to the entire God conversation. I became willing to consider the possibility because I saw in him an authenticity reflected in pure joy as he led the youth and adult choirs of the parish. He was real. His life was an act of praise to God. Each choir practice was an adventure of praise and thanksgiving as Jim gave voice to our song and we were invited to consider the God-possibility in each of us. Life for me was never the same again.
I often say that one of the purposes of liturgy is to create a space in which we can fall in love with God. In Mary’s great hymn of response to God’s invitation that we know as the “Magnificat,” we are drawn into a vision for God’s people that is radical and transformative: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” I remember my liturgics professor saying of this Song of Mary that of course she sang it, as there is no renewal without music. As we hear in Mary the echoes of Hannah’s prayer from I Samuel, we learn that the renewed heart’s first responsibility is the worship of God which bears the fruit of a life lived in gratefulness.
Then comes a more radical turn as we find that a grateful heart leads to radical living. Mary sings a vision of God that turns everything upside down. Perhaps as she came to realize her own life was being turned topsy-turvy, she was able to align her own voice with a God who scatters the proud, puts down the mighty, exalts the lowly and sends the rich away empty. And we wonder where Jesus got some of his ideas? Just look at Mom.
The choir director is telling us that those we marginalize, God glorifies. Think of the 22 million refugees of the world fleeing the violence of their homelands. See the homeless in our cities and beach communities, many of whom are teenagers and a large number are mentally ill. Ponder those who are disabled in any way. Consider those oppressed and ostracized for no other reason than for being who God created them to be. Walk into a prison. We could do no better than each day taking Mary’s lead and joining in the song she leads. Sing that song each day and see what happens. Perhaps by joining her choir we will find our lives renewed and conformed more closely to the One she bore and raised. Here lies a hope that even our generation will call her blessed.