The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Luke 1:39-56

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 8, 2010

39. ” And Mary rising up in those days, went with haste” &c. “Rising up,” means, preparing herself with great earnestness. “In those days” It is commonly thought she did not proceed on her journey immediately after the departure of the Angel, and the Incarnation of the Son of God, but that she devoted a few days to fervent prayer and meditation, and humble thanksgiving for the wonderful things God was pleased to do for and through her. This is conveyed in the words, ” in those days.”  “Went with haste.” She did not loiter on the way, or indulge in idle conversations. The words express the burning love and fervent charity which animated her, in the performance of the duty she proposed to herself, “nescit tarda molimina gratia spiritus sancti” (The grace of the Holy Ghost knows no such thing as tardy exertions or preparation, St Ambrose). “Into the hill country, into a city of Juda.” This is generally supposed to be, not Jerusalem, which, though built on a hill, was not in the hilly district, and was in the Tribe of Benjamin; but Hebron, a sacerdotal city assigned to the sons of Aaron (Josue xxi. 11), distant from Nazareth, where the Virgin abode, about 80 miles, or four days’ journey. For, Jerusalem was distant from Nazareth three days’ journey. Others, with Patrizzi (Lib. iii., Dissert, x. c. 1), say reference is made to Juta, a sacerdotal city in the mountains (Josue xv. 55), the difference in the reading, as regards both Juda and Juta, being very trifling. Juta being an obscure place
in the time of St. Luke, the locality of it is mentioned, “the hill country.” St. Luke invariably puts the proper name of any city he speaks of in apposition to the common noun; thus we have “the city of Nazareth,” i.e. called Nazareth;
“the city of Joppe,” i.e. the city called Joppe (Acts xi. 5); the city of Thalassa” (xxvii. 8).

This visit of the Blessed Virgin is generally supposed to have for object to congratulate her kinswoman, Elizabeth, on the great blessing conferred on both, and to discharge the pious office of attending on her who was so many years her senior in point of years. It is also supposed, she was impelled to this by the Spirit of God, in order that John might be filled with the Holy Ghost, as the Angel promised (v. 15), by the presence of his Lord, and that Elizabeth and John might both testify to the Incarnation of the Son of God. What an example of humility, as well as of charity is set before us here by the Blessed Virgi ! The mother of the Creator, the Queen of Angels and of men, visits her inferior and performs the offices of Charity towards her! It was not any doubts she entertained regarding the promise of the Angel, that prompted her to go and see if things happened in regard to Elizabeth, as the Angel declared; nor was it the mere desire to visit a kinswoman, as Theophylact
and others seem to maintain; nor was it feelings of curiosity either. No. “She went into the hill country,” says St. Ambrose, hic—”not as incredulous in regard to the oracle; nor as uncertain regarding the declaration made to her; nor as doubtful in regard to the fact adduced in confirmation of it; but, rejoicing in the accomplishment of her desire, religiously intent on discharging a duty imposed by kindred, and hastening on her way under the impulse of joy.” It is conjectured by some, that she was accompanied on her journey by her chaste spouse, Joseph, or at least by some female companion. As the Pasch was close at hand, Joseph likely went up with her as far as Jerusalem, which was on the way from Nazareth to Hebron. It may be, he remained there, and thus did not witness the salutation of Elizabeth, and
thereby learn the pregnancy of the Virgin, which cost him afterwards so much mental anguish and uncertainty ; 6r, if he went the whole way to Hebron, God arranged, for His own wise ends, that something prevented him from witnessing the meeting of these singularly holy women.

40. “The house of Zachary,” which was in the city of Juda, referred to, whether Hebron or Juta, or whatever city it was.

“And saluted Elizabeth” The Virgin, as younger in point of years, showed her
respect for Elizabeth, her senior, by saluting her first.  “The more chaste a virgin is, the more humble should she be, and ready to give way to her elders”
(Theophylact). Zachary, being deaf and dumb, was not a subject for salutation. Hence, she saluted Elizabeth, or, Zachary might have been absent.

Luk 1:41  And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.

41. “And it came to pass.” The Evangelist uses theee words to convey that he
was about to relate something unusual and extraordinary.

“That when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary” &c. The effect caused by the
Virgin’s salutation was twofold—the infant in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth herself were filled with the Holy Ghost. ” She first heard the voice of the Virgin; but, the infant was the first to feel the grace; she heard in a natural way, he leaped with joy on account of the mystery; she perceived the arrival of Mary, he became sensible of the presence of the Lord ” (St. Ambrose). He was the more worthy, as being destined to be the precursor of the Son of God; and it was to him, as such, the voice of the Virgin was, by divine impulse, first and chiefly addressed. Now, was verified the promise of the Angel that “from his mother’s womb, he would be filled with the Holy Ghost” (v. 15), and through him his mother also was filled with the same Spirit. It is clear it is to the same Spirit, viz., Holy Ghost, reference is made in both places. Elizabeth herself attributes this, not to any natural cause, arising from advanced pregnancy; but, to the salutation of the Virgin, and this the Evangelist wishes to convey here. “When Elizabeth heard the salutation,” the effects described followed.

“The infant leaped” The Greek for “leap,” (σκιρτάω = skirtaō pronounced: skeer-tah’-o), means, to “bound,” as young animals do. But it is afterwards said, he did so “for joy.” (v. 44). Hence it is commonly held by the Fathers, that this was the effect of miraculous interposition, and not of natural excitement, since it is attributed solely to the salutation and voice of the Virgin- and also, that John was gifted with reason, at least in this passing away, although St. Augustine is of a contrary opinion, and says the effect was produced, “dicinitus in infante, non humanitus ab infante.” However, the former opinion is the more common, as “joy” supposes knowledge. Whether he continued to enjoy the use of reason during the remaining three months in his mother’s womb, and during his infancy, must be a mere conjectural matter, regarding which there is a great diversity of opinion. It is commonly held that the Baptist was, on this occasion, cleansed from original sin. The Evangelist carefully notes that the joyous greeting of the infant was prior to the effect it caused in Elizabeth, filling her with the Holy Ghost, which she would seem to have received out of the abundance divinely bestowed on her infant, the order of grace thus reversing the order of nature, in which it is the mother that imparts the vital spirit to the infant shut up in her womb; here, on the contrary, it was from the infant the spirit of grace was communicated to the mother.

“And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.” The gifts of the Holy Ghost were now bestowed on her in greater abundance—”filled,” &c., )—and had the effect of bestowing on her a clear knowledge of the cause of the infant’s rejoicing and of the Mystery of the Incarnation. They conferred on her also supernatural knowledge (as Ven. Bede remarks, as well as St. Gregory, Hom. 1. in Ezechiel) in regard to the past, present and future—the past, “blessed art thou that hast believed”—evidently showing, she knew the words addressed to Mary by the Angel—the present, “the mother of my Lord,”’ &c. (v. 43), thus showing, she knew the Son of God was borne in Mary’s womb. She also knew the meaning of the exultation of the infant in her own womb; and the
future, “those things shall be accomplished,” &c. (v. 45), predicting as certain the accomplishment in due time of the Angel’s promises.

Luk 1:42  And she cried out with a loud voice and said: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

42. ” And she cried out with a loud voice,” &c, from the evident impulse and
inspiration of the Holy Ghost, with whom she was filled; and from admiration of the wonderful mysteries revealed to her, owing to which she could not contain herself, even in the presence of the Son of God and His Blessed Mother, crying out with a loud voice, in the very words in which the Angel had before addressed the Blessed Virgin, from the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, “who,” as St. Ambrose observes, “never forgets His own words ”
(Lib. 2, in Lucam).

“Blessed art thou amongst women. “Blessed” by God, in His wonderful gifts. It
does not refer to her future praises by men. ” Amongst,” &c.—before, or above, all other women, as you are virgin and mother at the same time—mother, not of a mere man, but mother of God. The pregnancy of the Virgin, at this early stage, could be known to Elizabeth only from the revelation of the Holy Ghost.

“And blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”   “And” has the force of the causal particle, because her blessedness arose from the great privilege of Divine maternity. ” The fruit of thy womb,” shows our Blessed Lord was really conceived and begotten of her, as mother. These words allude to the promise made to David regarding Him—” De fructu ventris tui ponam super sedem tuam” (Psalm cxxxi. 11); and she uses this form of expression rather than, Blessed is the Son you have conceived; because this Son was still in her womb. Mary is said to be blessed beyond all other women, but her Son is said to be “blessed” absolutely, without any comparison with others, as God, essentially so; as man, owing to the wonderful mystery of his Incarnation,
wherein the human nature of our Lord was hypostatically united to the Person of the Divine Word. In these words is shown, that all the blessings conferred on the Virgin were traceable to her having been made Mother of God. From Him, all her blessedness flows. She was blessed and filled with grace in a limited degree, but He, superabundantly—”Of  His fulness we have all received” (John 1. 6). “By a double miracle, the mothers prophesy by the spirit of their infants” (St. Ambrose).

Luk 1:43  And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

43. ” And whence is this to me?” &c. How could such wonderful felicity fall to
the lot of one so unworthy of it? It is solely the effect of the Divine goodness and condescension. These words by no means argue ignorance on the part of Elizabeth, but only her great humility, and her admiration of the wonderful mystery wrought in Mary, and a deep sense of her unworthiness to be visited by one, who was exalted to the sublimest dignity of Mother of God.

“That the mother of my Lord” &c. That one so exalted “should come to me,” who am so unworthy of such a privilege.  “Of my Lord,” the “Word Incarnate now in her sacred womb. He had been, therefore, by this time united to the human nature. Hence, the Blessed Virgin has been properly called, Theoticos (Theotokos). These words of Elizabeth to Mary are very similar to those addressed by the son of Elizabeth to the Son of Mary (Matthew iii. 14). By calling this infant, still shut in his mother’s womb, her “Lord,” Elizabeth plainly conveyed, that she regarded Him as the Eternal Son of God, as also did David, when he said, “The Lord said to my Lord ” which is applied by our Redeemer Himself to the Messiah (Matthew xxii. 44).

Luk 1:44  For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

44. From the exultation of the infant in her womb, the instant the voice of Mary reached her ears, even before she could grasp the meaning of her words, Elizabeth, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Ghost for this end, at once concludes, that the Virgin bore in her womb the Eternal Son of God, whose precursor saluted Him by anticipation from her own womb. While interiorly enlightening the mind of Elizabeth with His grace, which alone could give her the certain knowledge of the great event referred to, the Holy Ghost also wished to give an external corroborative sign, in the leaping of the infant in her womb, which, as Elizabeth conveys, resulted from the salutation of Mary, and was a certain sign of the presence of the Son of God.

Luk 1:45  And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.

45. “Blessed art thou that believest.” Hence, unlike Zachary, who was punished for his hesitation and unbelief, with which the faith of Mary is here contrasted, Mary firmly believed all the Angel told her from the beginning. Elizabeth here attributes the blessings to be conferred on Mary to her faith, as the beginning and root of justification; but not to her faith only.

“Because those things shall be accomplished” &c. Some of the things promised her by the Angel were already accomplished. “Thou shalt conceive” &c. This portion was accomplished, as she had now conceived. ” He shall be great” &c. This and all the other privileges resulting from it shall be conferred in due time.

“Spoken to thee by the Lord,” viz., by the Angel on the part of the Lord, as already referred to in the salutation (vv. 31-33). It is held by some that the words, “because these things shall be accomplished,” &c, were the object of Mary’s faith, thus immediately connecting them with “believed”—she believed that they would be accomplished. Others, more probably, say that they are the cause of her blessedness. She was blessed on account of the things which she believed would surely happen. The analogy of ὅτι (hoti, pronounced: hot’-ee) favours this opinion (See Matthew v. 3-10 ; Luke vi. 20, 21). Note: ὅτι is translated in our text as “because”: because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.

Luk 1:46  And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord.

46. “And Mary said,” &c. Seeing the praises bestowed on her by the Angel,
and the repetition of the same by Elizabeth, Mary, who was “full of grace,” and now bore in her sacred womb, the great fountain of all grace, of whom, therefore, it is not said, on the occasion of the following inspired Canticle, as was said of Elizabeth, that she “was filled with the Holy Ghost,” because utterly unnecessary, now, in the fulness of her humility, refers all she possessed, as was meet, to the proper source, Almighty God, from whom all she had was received. As if she said, Elizabeth, you praise me, you congratulate me on the wonderful things God has been pleased to do for me.
But knowing, that of myself, I am and have nothing; that all these come to me from the infinite bounty of God; I do, therefore, in the fulness of truth, and with the deepest feelings of gratitude, extol His goodness and merciful bounty.

This Canticle, the first of the New Testament, and the most perfect ever composed or uttered, is not unlike that of Anna, the mother of Samuel, uttered under similar circumstances: “My heart hath rejoiced in the Lord, and my horn is exalted in my God,” &c. (1 Sam ii. I, &c.) It may be said to consist of three parts. In the first, from v. 46, to v. 50, the Virgin recounts the singular benefits conferred on herself, and blesses God for them, above all, for the conception of the Son of God in her womb. In the second part, vv. 50-54, she praises God for the blessings bestowed on the entire Jewish people, at all times, before the advent of the Son of God, making special allusion to the victories of God’s people over Pharaoh, and the Chanaanite
nations. In the third part, vv. 54, 55, she refers again to the mystery of the Incarnation, promised of old to the Fathers.

“My soul,” that is, I myself. She prefers using the term, “my soul,” to convey
that her praises, and the ardent expression of her gratitude, proceeded from her inmost soul, and all its faculties ; from feelings the most intense; from all her strength; from her whole intellect, memory, will; from all the spiritual faculties of her mind; from all the senses of her body; from her tongue, to speak of Him only; her hands, to work for Him only; her feet, to lead and conduct only to Him. In the same sense did David say (Psalm cii. 1), “Benedic anima mea Domino, et omnia quae intra me sunt, nomini sancto ejus.” Some Commentators distinguish between soul (” anima mea”), and spirit (” spiritus meus”), next verse, as if the former referred to the inferior faculties of the soul, psyche; the latter, to the superior, pneuma a signification the words naturally bear (see 1 Cor. ii. 15, Commentary on). Others understand “soul,” other intellect; “spirit,” of her will. But, most likely, they both refer to the same thing, which is repeated in different words, in accordance with Hebrew usage. Hence, they both express the soul, with all its faculties. Nor is there any reason for saying of the “soul,” that it “magnifies,” and of the “spirit,” that it “exulteth,” since we find it said of the soul elsewhere, that it exulteth, “anima mea exultabit in Domino” (Psalm xxxiv. 9), and, “exultabit anima mea in Deo meo” (Isaias lxi. 10). It may, however, be that the one refers to the inferior part of the soul, as it considers natural things; the other, to the superior part, as it considers things celestial and supernatural. “My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God” (Psalm lxxxiii. 2).

“Doth magnify” that is, proclaims His praises, extols His attributes, His sovereign majesty, magnificence, omnipotence, sanctity, wisdom, bounty, &c. As man cannot add to, or take away from, God’s greatness, all he can do is to proclaim His attributes to the world, just as His “Name is sanctified” by us; when, on the other hand, God magnifies man, He actually makes him great by bestowing on him honours, riches, extended rule, &c.

“The Lord.” The Holy Trinity, to whom alone all praise is due, as it is the
Holy Trinity that confers all blessings in the order of nature and grace. The term, “Lord,” conveys the idea of His majesty and power. All that creatures, however exalted, whether on earth or in heaven, either possess, or expect to possess, whether gifts of nature, of grace, or of glory, are received. They come from God alone, from whose heavenly throne above every good gift descends on creatures (St. James 1. 17).

Luk 1:47  And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

47. “Hath rejoiced,” from the very moment of the Incarnation, and still rejoices, or as the Greek word, ἀγαλλιάω (agalliaō = ag-al-lee-ah’-o), conveys, bounds, leaps with exultation, not as if my singular privileges came from myself, but from “God, my Saviour.” This is an illusion to Habacuc (Habakkuk) (iii. 18), “I will joy in God, my Jesus (i.e., Savior).” In the word “Lord” God is represented as exercising power, displaying majesty. Here the Virgin represents Him under a different aspect, as, bountiful, beneficent in bestowing the greatest blessings. He was the Saviour of all men; but, she exhibits Him as bestowing salvation on herself.

Luk 1:48  Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

48. “Because He hath regarded,” &c. Here the Virgin gives the reason of her
rejoicing in her God and Saviour, because, He who is the most exalted, the Supreme, Sovereign Being, had, out of His infinite condescension, “regarded” looked upon her with feelings of infinite favour, bestowing upon her such an abundance of gifts, commencing with her Immaculate Conception, and ending with her final, triumphant assumption into glory, as rendered her singularly privileged far beyond the rest of creation, whether on earth or in heaven.

” The humility of His handmaid,” which means His most abject handmaid, whose lowly condition, compared with His exalted nature and lofty dominion, is incomparable (Note: my text at this point is garbled, “inomparable” is a guess on my part in light of the context) The word,
“humility,” is understood by some, of the vix-tue of humility, for which the Virgin was greatly distinguished. But, although the Virgin excelled in humility, as opposed to pride, as she did in all other virtues; still, it is unlikely she would credit herself with humility, or make it the subject of boasting. Moreover, the Greek word ταπείνωσις (tapeinōsis = tap-i’-no-sis), means abjection, lowliness of condition. The Greek for humility as a
virtue is, ταπεινοφροσύνη (tapeinophrosunē = tap-i-nof-ros-oo’-nay). Hence, the Blessed Virgin proclaims her humility not in words, as this might savour of pride; but in deed, by loudly proclaiming her abject
unworthiness, which rendered her undeserving of the exalted dignity to which she was now raised by God. For, although she makes no express mention of it, she clearly implies the peculiar way in which God was pleased “to regard” her and exalt her to the sublime dignity of Mother of God. Though full of grace and merits, the Blessed Virgin might still in truth proclaim her unworthiness, looking to her own nature, looking merely to herself, without the grace of God, to which alone every thing good she possessed, was due; and also comparing herself, however exalted, with the supreme, uncreated Majesty of God.

“The humility of His handmaid” then means His most abject, unworthy, handmaid, as if “handmaid” did not of itself sufficiently express her lowliness of estate, imitating David, who says, he was not only “His servant, but the Son of His handmaid” (Psalm cxv. 7). She uses the word “humility,” to express still more, that she was His lowlv, humble handmaid. Similar is the form (Apocalypse xvii. 1), “the condemnation of the harlot” meaning the condemned harlot.

“For behold from henceforth” &c. The Virgin here assigns the reason why she
should regard herself as specially favoured by God, and raised from a vile, abject, lowly condition, to the most exalted dignity. From this day forward, to the end of time, not only the Angel Gabriel, not only Elizabeth, but all generations of men, Jew and Gentile, without exception or distinction, who are to believe in my Son, as the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father (for, it is of the generations of believers only she speaks) shall, on account of the great dignity of Mother of God bestowed on me, pronounce me “Blessed” shall treat me as such, shall honour me, and confidently have recourse to my powerful patronage in their necessities.

This inspired prophecy of the Blessed Virgin regarding the honour and reverence all generations of believers were to pay her as long as the Church lasts on earth, that is to say, to the final end of all things—”all generations”—has been verified from the beginning. Next to her Divine Son Jesus, the Blessed Virgin has been the most cherished and beloved object of Christian love and veneration. The honour and veneration paid to her—while infinitely below the cultus latriæ due to God, and to Him alone, as Sovereign Lord and Master—is still far superior to that shown to all the other saints. The worship paid to them is termed cultus duliæ—or the worship paid to the servants. Hers, hyper duliæ, a worship in degree far beyond that paid to

them, became proportioned to her exalted dignity of Mother of God, also to her transcendent merits, and to the singular graces bestowed upon her, which far exceeded those of all the angels and saints together. (see my note after next paragraph).

If, then, it be true, that all generations of believers, of whom alone there can
be question here, are to call her Blessed, and treat her as such,—and it must be so, unless the oracles of God are falsified—it follows, as a most necessary logical consequence, that those who dishonour her, who omit reverencing her, whose religious tenets teach them to undervalue her, and not proclaim her singularly “Blessed,” and deserving of the highest honour that can be paid to any creature, must not belong to the generation of believers—and almost all heretics, from the beginning, gloried in decrying the Mother of God. It also follows most logically, that every system of religious teaching must be false which does not enjoin on its followers to honour her,—and this is the leading distinguishing characteristic of all systems of religion outside the Catholic Church. Hence, we may infer that devotion to the Blessed Virgin is, at least, a clear, negative note or mark of God’s Church. Let those who fail to show the Blessed Virgin due honour and respect, tremble at this prophecy, emanating from the Spirit of God, which excludes them from the society of the faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

Note: the word worship, like the word discrimination has a wide range of meaning in spite of how they are generally or popularly understood.  Some years ago the Pope condemned “unjust discrimination” against homosexual while maintaining certain justifiable ones.  The media went into a frenzy, asking how discrimination could be anything other than unjust.  They should have consulted a dictionary.  The basic meaning of discriminate is to make a distinction or judgment on the basis of facts or common sense.  To forbid a woman (or homosexual) from working as a monitor in a boy’s locker room is an act of discrimination, but not an unjust one.

Similarly, the word “worship” has a broad range of meaning.  The old English word from which it is derived, weorthscipe, simply means worthiness or respect and can be applied to what is owed to parents, rulers etc., or as synonymous with adoration owed to God.  It is precisely this ambiguity which necessitated the adoption of the Latin latiræ and duliæ (latria and dulia) to avoid confusion.  It should be noted that this same confusion exists in the Bible where the Hebrew שׁחה (shâchâh = shaw-khaw’) and its Greek equivalent προσκυνέω (proskuneō = pros-koo-neh’-o) can be used with a wide range of meaning.  Thus in 1 Sam 24:8 one would do well if writing in Latin to translate as follows: And David also rose up after him: and going out of the cave, cried after Saul, saying: “My lord the king. And Saul looked behind him: and David bowing himself down to the ground, duliæ (i.e, worshiped)”.  This is to show the worhiness or respect one is due because of his office is from God.  Psalm 5:7 (5:8 in some bibles) would be translated: “But as for me in the multitude of thy mercy, I will come into thy house; I will  latriæ (worship) towards thy holy temple, in thy fear.”  Here latriæ, as opposed to duliæ, indicates divine honor or adoration due to God alone.

Luk 1:49  Because he that is mighty hath done great things to me: and holy is his name.

49. “He that is mighty.” The Greek δυνατός (dunatos = doo-nat-os) means, the Mighty One, the Almighty, “hath done great things in me.” Most Greek copies for “great,” have μεγαλεῖος (megaleios = meg-al-i’-os), wonderful, ineffable things. She refers to the great and ineffable blessings, the abundant fulness of grace conferred on her, but especially to the crowning favour, the highest of all, in being raised to the singularly exalted dignity of Mother of
God. In this, the Virgin assigns the cause, why she is to be proclaimed “Blessed,” honoured, revered, invoked by all generations, to the end of time. The Virgin chiefly refers to the dignity, lately conferred on her, of bearing in her chaste womb the Son of God. But this, although known to Elizabeth, as it was to be hereafter known to all the faithful followers of her Son, and celebrated by them, was too ineffable for her to give expression to it, in the fulness of her humility and virginal modesty, thus, in a certain sense, verifying the words, “generationem ejus qui– enarrabit “? (Isaias liii. 8).

“And holy is His name.” The name of God is the same as God Himself. One of
His attributes is essential holiness. This is what the angelic song unceasingly
celebrates: “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts” (Isaias vi. 3). Everywhere the Scriptures proclaim Him as ” the Holy One of Israel.” Hence, our Lord teaches
us always to pray,”Hallowed be Thy name” (Matthew vi. 9, see Commentary on). The Blessed Virgin, after referring to the power of God displayed in the great work of the Incarnation and the conception of our Lord in her chaste womb—hence, calling Him “Lord” “Who is Mighty”—now refers to His great sanctity displayed in connection with the same great work. Everything in it was pure and holy—the conception from the Holy Ghost, the conception of a pure virgin, “full of grace? sanctified and free from all sin, by His grace. She, therefore, calls Him, “God, her Saviour.” As it was a work of power, that the Son of God should become man, conceived in the chaste womb of a virgin, so it was also a work of sanctity to prepare the Virgin for so great an event, and render her pure and undefiled. Therefore, as the Virgin knew, she was to be pronounced “Blessed” by “all (future) generations,” both on account of the conception of the Son of God, and her own sanctity, she wishes to have all referred to the power and sanctity of God, or, as it may rather be said, that, as the Incarnation of the Son of God and the preparation of the Virgin were both the work of God’s power, sanctity, and mercy, the Virgin extols His power, sanctity, and mercy (v. 50) in reference to both effects.

“And holy” &c. “And” means, because. It is because He is uncreated, essential
holiness, He brought about such a wonderful effect of holiness, as that His Son—”the Saint of saints” (Daniel ix. 24)—should be conceived in my womb, whom He preserved by His grace from all sin and defilement.

Luk 1:50  And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.

50. This is the second part of the Canticle, wherein the Virgin, after extolling God’s wonderful goodness and mercy towards herself, extols His goodness towards the entire world. “And is from generation” &c. She extols His great
“mercy” that is, goodness, beneficence, liberality, manifested not alone in favour of her, but at all times, and to all persons, particularly towards those who “fear” and obey Him. The Greek for “from generation unto generation.” is, “unto generations and generations;” that is, countless generations of men at all times. He has displayed in my regard, the boundless mercy exhibited in times past to our fathers, and He ceases not to manifest it at all times, present and future as well.

“To them that fear Him.” Fear of God, which is ” the beginning of wisdom” is
naturally inspired by His Holy name, which is also “terrible.'” This fear implies
obedience, or the observance of His Commandments. Although “God’s mercy is over all His works,” and is extended even to those who show no reverence for Him; still, it is, in a special manner and effectually, displayed in saving and remunerating in the end, those who obey Him; since, obstinate unbelievers and prevaricators shut against themselves the gate of mercy, which they scorn to enter. The words of this verse are almost identical with those of David (Psalm cii. 17), “And the mercy of the Lord from eternity unto eternity upon them that fear Him.”

Luk 1:51  He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

61. “He hath showed might in His arm.” Having extolled God’s merciful clemency and liberality towards those, who fear and obey Him, the Virgin now extols His severity and justice in regard to those who haughtily resist Him. “Showed might” performed mighty, wonderful deeds. “In His arm.” The word “arm” is here used metaphorically, to denote God’s power, as man’s strength is in his arm. There is a diversity of opinion regarding the reference contained in the words of this and the following verses. The most probable interpretation of them is, that, like the words of Anna (1 Sam ii. 4, 5), they are general expressions in praise of God’s wonderful power exerted against His enemies in past times, as in the case of Pharaoh, through Moses; of the Chanaanites, through .Josue and the Judges; of the Philistines, &c, through David. But, under these deeds of power, most likely, the Virgin, in a
prophetic spirit, refers to the great deeds of spiritual power, signified by the former, such as the work of the Incarnation and other achievements of spiritual power, as well as the victories to be obtained by Christ; so that the past and future works of God are included. Here we have a prophecy expressed, after prophetic usage, in words of the past Some, by “arm” understand the Eternal Son of God, by whom, “all things were made.” However, the preceding is the more probable interpretation.

“He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their hearts.” “Conceit” means, thoughts. Hence, the words mean : He hath scattered and brought to nought, those haughty men who, esteeming themselves above every one else, attributed all to themselves, trampled under foot and despised all others (Psalm lxxxviii. 1 1 ; Isaias li. 9). The words might also mean, if we connect “conceit of their heart” with “scattered,” is wont to scatter. He turned their own designs against the proud themselves, and caught, and every day catches the wise in their cunning, as He did in the case of Pharaoh following the Hebrews through the Red Sea, and in the case of Joseph’s brethren.

Luk 1:52  He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble.

52. “Put down the mighty from their throne.” The Greek for “mighty” means
Dynasts, who enjoyed royal state and power, as conveyed by “throne.” “Put down” has also a present and future signification. He put, puts, and will put, or it may imply a general allusion to time, He is wont to put down. The Greek word, καθαιρέω (kathaireō = kath-ahee-reh’-o), conveys the idea of routing a vanquished foe. According to some, reference is here made to Saul, Aman, Nebuchodonozor, Vasthi, &c.; and, in the next words, “and hath exalted the humble,” to David, Mordocheus, Daniel, Esther, &c. Others understand
them, of the victory over the devils, so powerful before the coming of Christ; and by “humble,” those harassed by them (Theophylact, Cyril, &c.); while others understand them of the humiliation and rejection of the Jewish people from being the chosen and beloved people of God, of the rejection of the Jewish priests from their thrones in the sanctuary; and of the call to the faith of the Gentiles, hitherto of no consideration, and their election to lofty thrones in the kingdom of God’s Church here, and of His eternal glory hereafter. Probably, the Virgin refers in general to the power which
God always displays in depressing, and humbling the haughty; and to His great mercy usually displayed in raising up and elevating the humble. Such is the ordinary economy of His providence expressed in the words, “He resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.” “Every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled, and every one that humbles himself, shall be exalted.” Similar are the words of David (Psalm cxii. 6); of Anna (1 Sam ii. 7).

Luk 1:53  He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.

53. “He hath filled the hungry with good things.” The idea is similar to that in
the foregoing, or connected with it. ” Good things,” in opposition to “hungry”
and “empty,” has reference to food, of course, understood figuratively. The words of this verse may have reference to the benefits bestowed by God on the Hebrews, whom He fed for forty years with manna in the desert, and introduced into the “landflowing with milk and honey,” after expelling the Chanaanites, and suffering them to famish from hunger; to Elias, whom He fed through the ministry of an Angel; to Daniel in the lion’s den, to whom He employed Habacuc to carry food to the Virgin herself, hungering and thirsting after justice, whom He fed with the abundance of graces in the Word Incarnate, and also to the countless multitudes of the faithful, whom He feeds dailv with the Bread of Life in the adorable Eucharist so that the words employed in the past tense, as has been already observed, have also a present and future signification and reference. Others understand the words of the Jews, who imagining themselves fully justified by the law, and in consequence, sought not justice, were therefore rejected; while the Gentiles, destitute of grace and justice, were called to the abundant graces and blessings of the Gospel. It may be, that the Virgin does not refer to any particular instance or fact at all; but, only expresses, in praise of God’s wonderful providence, bountiful liberality and justice, what He is wont to do. The same mar be also applicable to some of the foregoing declarations made by her. The words of this verse are very similar to those of Anna (1 Sam ii. 5), and of David (Psalm xxxiii. 11).

Luk 1:54  He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy.

54. “He hath received Israel His servant.” In this, the third part of the Canticle, the Virgin extols the mercy and goodness of God, in bringing about the great mystery of the Incarnation, in the accomplishment of which the chief instruments were from the Jewish nation, and the chief blessings were primarily intended for the carnal descendants of Abraham, to be afterwards extended to all His spiritual children called from among the Gentiles.

“Received.” The Greek word, ἀντιλαμβάνομαι (antilambanomai = an-tee-lam-ban’-om-ahee), literally means, to lay hold of any thing or person in order to support or prop it up, when on the point of falling. Here, it is employed metaphorically, to signify, to protect, to support, to raise up from a state of abject depression.

“Israel His servant.” The ancient Jewish people, whom God was wont to call His Son “because Israel was a child, and I loved him, and I called my Son out of Egypt (Osee xi. 1). The Jewish people, when in great straits, were wonderfully rescued and supported by God. He did so of old in the days of Moses, Josue, Samuel, David, Ezechias, Zorobabel, Machabees, &c.; but, now when in a most abject state, both in a temporal and spiritual point of view, oppressed by Herod, who seized on the sceptre of David, oppressed and harassed spiritually by their religious guides, the Scribes and Pharisees, God comes wonderfully to their rescue, by sending His Son to take flesh in the womb of a virgin, herself of the family of David, whose throne was to be raised up and perpetuated for ever. No doubt, the Virgin refers also to spiritual Israel, who were to be the spiritual sons of Abraham, imitators of his faith. “Being mindful of His mercy,” which, considering the condition of the human race, Jew and Gentile, God would seem to have forgotten. (” His,” is omitted in most Greek copies). God is said to “remember mercy,” when, in addition to ancient mercies, He gives some fresh and striking instance of mercy and goodness.

“As He spoke to our fathers.” These words are, according to some, parenthetical; as the phrase, προς τους πατερα, ad patres nostros, are in the accusative case, and τω αβρααμ, &c, Abraham et Semini ejus, in the dative. Hence, according to these commentators, the connection should be, “being mindful of His mercy . . . to Abraham and his seed (as He had promised our fathers regarding it “). Others say, the verb, ελαλησεν, “spoke,” governs a dative or accusative case. Hence, St. Luke changes the construction, putting
“our fathers” in the accusative; “Abraham and his seed,” in the dative, so that thus, the Virgin points out who “our fathers” were, to whom God spoke
and made promises of great mercy. These were, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—to whom He said: “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis xxii. 18); and David, to whom special promises on this head were still more recently made, “of the fruit of thy womb, I shall set upon Thy throne.”

“For ever,” may affect “mercy,” and mean: He promised everlasting, neverending mercy; or “seed” and would mean, Abraham’s seed, who were to be never failing, to endure,—at least his spiritual offspring,—to the end of ages, and enjoy never-ending glory for all eternity.

Luk 1:56  And Mary abode with her about three months. And she returned to her own house.

56. “And Mary abode with her about three months.” The word, “about,” may denote a period greater or less than the term indicated.

“And returned to her house.” She did not loiter idly on the way, but went straight home, after having performed the pious offices of friendship and charity towards her relative. It was shortly after this, that Joseph observing signs of pregnancy, suffered so much in mind on her account (Matthew i. 19, 20). The term of Mary’s abode in the house of Zachary was, no doubt, spent in pious conversations regarding the mystery of the Incarnation, and in thanking and extolling the ineffable goodness of God, in thus vouchsafing to visit His people, and in assigning to themselves so prominent a part in this wonderful event. It is warmly disputed here, whether Mary remained till the birth of the Baptist. Some maintain, that she remained only till the term of Elizabeth’s delivery was near. Their first reason is, that Mary is said to have remained “about three months;” and as Elizabeth was gone with child nearly six months, when she came; she did not, therefore, remain the full time. But this reason proves nothing. For, “about,” may as well denote more as less;
besides, in some instances, women bring forth before the nine months of
gestation are completed. Again, the advocates of the former opinion, say, it
was not becoming in a virgin to be present at the birth of a child. But, in
reply, it may be said, that Mary was a mother as well as a virgin, and, at this
time, she was carrying in her chaste womb the Son of God  besides, it was not
necessary she should be present at the time of parturition. She could have
remained in some other chamber in Zachary’s house at the time. Again, the
former say, the narrative of the Evangelist would seem to indicate, that, it was after Mary’s departure, Elizabeth brought forth (v. 57). But, the Evangelists are wont often to postpone the order or precise date of events, in order to finish some particular narrative, as may be seen from Matthew xxvi., xxvii. St. Luke, then, having commenced the account of the Virgin’s visit to Elizabeth, does not interrupt it even by the narration of events which may have occurred in the meantime, until he concludes by narrating her return home. The opposite opinion, which maintains, that the Virgin did not leave till after the birth of the Baptist, seems by far more probable. It consults more for the friendship and charity of the Virgin, to suppose that having remained, up to the eve of her cousin’s confinement, she would wait for the happy event of her delivery. Is it likely, that having gone with haste to congratulate Elizabeth, on hearing of her pregnancy, and having remained till almost the last moment, she would leave her cousin under the circumstances? The Evangelist, in referring to her stay of three months, would seem to convey, that she remained till the birth of the Baptist, as Elizabeth was advanced six months in her pregnancy, when the Virgin arrived. Moreover, is it not very likely, that Mary, who knew the destination of the Baptist as the great Precursor of her Son, whom he saluted from his mother’s womb, would be anxious to see and embrace the blessed infant, so closely united to her by so many spiritual relations and ties of natural kindred? Hence, this latter opinion seems by far the more probable.

3 Responses to “Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Luke 1:39-56”

  1. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54)… Actually, the post is on the entire canticle. […]

  2. […] Gospel Reading B~Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-47). Actually, this post is on verse […]

  3. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on the Gospel (Luke 1:39-56). […]

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