"Magnificat of the Old Testament"
Papal Address at the General Audience
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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 20, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II dedicated today´s general audience to meditate on the canticle of Anna, mother of the prophet Samuel. Here is a translation of the address which was given in Italian.
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1. The voice of a woman leads us today in a prayer of praise to the Lord of life. In fact, in the story of the First Book of Samuel, Anna is the person who intones the hymn we just proclaimed, after having offered her son, the little Samuel, to the Lord. He will be a prophet in Israel and with his action will mark the transition of the Hebrew people to a new form of government, the monarchic, which will have as protagonists the unfortunate king Saul and the glorious king David. Anna had a history of suffering behind her because, as the story says, the Lord "had made her barren" (1 Samuel 1:5).
In ancient Israel, the sterile woman was considered as a dry branch, a dead presence, in part because she impeded her husband from having continuity in the memory of successive generations, an important fact in what was still an uncertain and nebulous vision of the hereafter.
2. However, Anna had placed her trust in the God of life and thus had prayed: "O Lord of hosts, if you look with pity on the misery of your handmaid, if you remember me and do not forget me, if you give your handmaid a male child, I will give him to the Lord for as long as he lives" (verse 11). And God heard the cry of this humbled woman, giving her, in fact, Samuel: the dry trunk produced a living shoot (see Isaiah 11:1); that which was impossible from the human point of view became a palpitating reality in that child to be consecrated to the Lord.
The song of thanksgiving that sprang from the lips of this mother, would be taken up again and rephrased by another mother, Mary, who, remaining a virgin, gave birth by the power of the Spirit of God. Indeed, in the "Magnificat" of Jesus´ mother one perceives the canticle of Anna which, precisely because of this, is called "the Magnificat of the Old Testament."
3. In fact, scholars note that the sacred author has placed on Anna´s lips a kind of royal Psalm, laced with quotations and allusions to other Psalms.
In the foreground, the image of the Hebrew king emerges, assailed by more powerful adversaries, but who in the end is saved and triumphs because the Lord who is at his side, breaks the bows of the mighty (see 1 Samuel 2:4). The end of the song is significant, when in a solemn epiphany the Lord enters the scene: "[T]he Lord´s foes shall be shattered. The Most High in heaven thunders; the Lord judges the ends of the earth. Now may he give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed" (verse 10). In Hebrew the last word is precisely "messiah," namely the "anointed," which allows this royal prayer to be transformed into a song of messianic hope.
4. We wish to underline two terms in this hymn of thanksgiving, which expresses Anna´s sentiments. The first will also be dominant in Mary´s Magnificat, and is the reversal of fates operated by God. The mighty are humbled and the feeble "girded with strength"; the satiated go in desperate search of food and the hungry sit down to a sumptuous banquet; the poor are raised from the dust and receive "a seat of honor" (see verses 4:8).
It is easy to perceive in this ancient prayer the theme of the seven actions that Mary sees realized in history by God the Savior: "He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud ..., he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel" (Luke 1:51-54).
It is a profession of faith expressed by the two mothers before the Lord of history, who arrays himself to defend the last, the poor and unhappy, the offended and humiliated.
5. The other topic that we wish to shed light on is even more related to the figure of Anna: "The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes" (1 Samuel 2:5). The Lord who reverses destinies is also he who is at the root of life and death. Anna´s sterile womb was like a tomb; yet God was able to make life spring, because in "this hand is the soul of every living thing, and the life breath of all mankind" (Job 12:10). In this connection, immediately after is sung: "The Lord puts to death and gives life; he casts down to the nether world; he raises up again" (1 Samuel 2:6).
At this point, hope not only affects the life of the child that is born, but also that [life] which God can bring back after death. Hence, an almost "paschal" horizon of resurrection opens. Isaiah will sing: "But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust. For your dew is a dew of light, and the land of shades gives birth" (Isaiah 26:19).
[Translation by ZENIT]
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[At the end of the audience, the Pope gave the following resume in English.]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is the voice of Anna, the mother of the prophet Samuel, that leads us in our meditation this morning. Her canticle of thanksgiving is known as "the Magnificat of the Old Testament" because it is very similar to the hymn of praise sung by Mary, the Mother of Jesus, after the Annunciation.
Both hymns are a moving profession of faith in the Lord of history, who takes the side of the least, the poor, and the suffering. The sterile womb of Anna was like a dark tomb, yet God made it the place from which new life springs forth. In this, we see a foreshadowing of the Resurrection, when life definitively triumphs over death. With Anna and Mary, we too sing the praises of God who "puts to death and gives life, who casts down ... and raises up again" (1 Samuel 2:6).
I am pleased to offer warm greetings to all the English-speaking visitors present at this Audience. In particular, I greet the Delegation from the Ministry for Home Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand. Upon all of you, especially those from Denmark, Japan, and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[text distributed by Vatican Press Office]