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By KATIE GROSS
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed..."
Do you ever find yourself paying less attention to the Old Testament reading at Mass because it doesn't make sense to you? The Bible talks of kings and lineages and exiles and forefathers, which can seem a little confusing to us modern Catholics. In this Gospel, Mary uses a few words that we may "tune out" for being so antiquated - generation, thrones, Israel, our fathers, etc. However, just because something sounds Old Testament-esque doesn't mean we should tune it out - the Old Testament is so important to our faith because it points towards the New Covenant and our salvation through Jesus.
Today's first reading comes from the first book of Samuel. Samuel's mother, Hannah, presents him in the temple: "I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord." Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Hannah's surrender of her child is a foreshadowing of Mary's surrender of Jesus.
Similarly, today's Responsorial is a prayer of Hannah:
"My heart exults in the LORD,
my horn is exalted in my God.
I have swallowed up my enemies;
I rejoice in my victory."
The bows of the mighty are broken,
while the tottering gird on strength.
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,
while the hungry batten on spoil.
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.
The LORD puts to death and gives life;
he casts down to the nether world;
he raises up again.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich,
he humbles, he also exalts.
He raises the needy from the dust;
from the dung heap he lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage."
Again, sounds familiar, doesn't it? Hannah nearly said the same words as Mary does in today's Gospel. There are many Old Testament figures who prefigure New Testament figures, as if their entire life were a prophecy and foreshadowing of salvation. These pairings are called biblical types. Some examples are Eve as a type of Mary, or even the serpent on a staff that cured Israelites as a type of Jesus on the cross.
The Mass readings from this past Friday were a prime example as well, as the mother of Samson in the book of Judges says:
"A man of God came to me; he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed.
I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.
But he said to me,
'You shall be with child and will bear a son.
So take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean.
For the boy shall be consecrated to God from the womb,
until the day of his death.'"
Then, the Gospel reading was about the annunciation of the conception of John the Baptist. Again, strikingly similar stories. The Mass readings in Advent are absolutely filled with Biblical types from the Old Testament. They demonstrate the path and plan of our salvation from the very beginnings of our faith.
What does this mean for us today? It is a reminder of us to be ever more watchful for the working of God in our lives. None of these Old Testament figures were aware of how their lives would foreshadow the coming of the Messiah. In hindsight, however, how incredible is it to see how their entire lives were prophecies! We may not be visited by angels in our lifetime. We may not be prophets or mothers of rulers or anything outwardly great. However, if we surrender to God like these Biblical figures did, we will be able to look back in eternity and see how our lives were a reflection of the Son of God, the Christ.