Tag Archives: Gospel

You Need Only One Hand to Help…


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Instead of using your two hands to pray to your God, gods and goddesses, why not stretch one hand and help the poor?

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Photo source: Unknown
Photo source: Unknown

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Lent is a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and covers a period of approximately six weeks before Easter Sunday.

For the Christians, prayer, fasting and almsgiving mark Lent. Of these three, almsgiving is the most neglected.

Why is almsgiving better than prayer and fasting?

In a way, almsgiving is a form of prayer and not just philanthropy.

Almsgiving is also a form of fasting. It requires some sacrifice. One has to give up something, even if it hurts. It is not just giving something to someone. It is “giving to God”.

The Book of Tobit, named after its principal character has an engaging story about Jewish piety and morality combined with folklore. The book has enjoyed wide popularity in both Jewish and Christian faiths. The inspired author of the book places a firm emphasis on almsgiving. The following verses 12:8-10 in Tobit is the only place in the Bible where prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are brought together.

Prayer with fasting is good. Almsgiving with righteousness is better than wealth with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold, for almsgiving saves one from death and purges all sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do evil are their own worst enemies. (Tobit 12:8-10)

Almsgiving is also a form of fasting. It requires some sacrifice. One has to give up something, even if it hurts. It is not just giving something to someone. It involves giving money, food, clothes, and materials or providing capabilities such as education, health facilities, and other amenities.

Almsgiving is a necessary part in all religions. It is “giving to God”.

Almsgiving in Buddhism

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Novices receive alms, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar (magical-world - flickr.com)
Novices receive alms, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar (magical-world – flickr.com)

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In Buddhism, a layperson shows respect to a monk, a nun, a spiritually developed person or to any other sentient being by giving alms. It is not charity. Being humble, giving alms, and showing respect to the monk or nun and the religious society, provides a symbolic binding of the layperson with the spiritual realm.

According to the Buddhists, the more a layperson gives without seeking anything in return the wealthier he or she will become. The act of giving destroys the acquisitive nature that leads to further suffering. Generosity is an act of merit performed by a donor to help the receiver.

The Mahayana Buddhist tradition emphasizes that generosity towards others as one of the perfections (paramita) as found in Lama Tsong Khapa’s ‘The Abbreviated Points of the Graded Path‘:

Total willingness to give is the wish-granting gem for fulfilling the hopes of wandering beings.

It is the sharpest weapon to sever the knot of stinginess.

It leads to Bodhisattva conduct that enhances self-confidence and courage. It is the basis of the universal proclamation of your fame and repute.

Realizing this, the wise rely, in a healthy manner, on the outstanding path of being ever-willing to offer completely their bodies, their possessions, and positive potentials.

The ever-vigilant lama has practiced like that.

If you too would seek liberation, Please cultivate yourself, in the same way.

Almsgiving in Hinduism

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Lady giving alms at the Temple, by Raja Ravi Varma, (1848–1906)
Lady giving alms at the Temple, by Raja Ravi Varma, (1848–1906)

In Hinduism, Bhiksha is a devotional offering. It is  usually food, presented at a temple to the destitute, a religious Brahmin, a swami, or an ascetic.

In Chapter XXIX of Vasishtha Samhita we find:

  1. Through Alms giving to poor obtains all his desires.
  2. (Even) longevity, (and he is born again as) a student of the Veda, possessed of beauty.
  3. He who abstains from injuring (sentient beings) obtains heaven.
  4. By entering a fire the world of Brahman (is gained).
  5. By (a vow of) silence (he obtains) happiness.
  6. By staying (constantly) in water he becomes a lord of elephants.
  7. He who expends his hoard (in gifts) becomes free from disease.
  8. A giver of water (becomes) rich by (the fulfilment of) all his desires.
  9. A giver of food (will have) beautiful eyes and a good memory.
  10. He who gives a promise to protect (somebody) from all dangers (becomes) wise.
  11. (To bestow gifts) for the use of cows (is equal to) bathing at all sacred places.
  12. By giving a couch and a seat (the giver becomes) master of a harem.
  13. By giving an umbrella (the giver) obtains a house.
  14. He who gives a House to a poor family obtains a town
  15. He who gives a pair of Shoes obtains a vehicle.
  16. Now they quote also (the following verses): Whatever sin a man distressed for livelihood commits, (from that) he is purified by giving land, (be it) even “a bull’s hide”.
  17. He who gives to a Brâhmana guest a vessel filled with water for sipping, will obtain after death complete freedom from thirst and be born again as a drinker of Soma.
  18. If a gift of one thousand oxen fit to draw a carriage (has been bestowed) according to the rule on a perfectly worthy man, that is equal to giving a maiden.
  19. They declare that cows, land, and learning are the three most excellent gifts. For to give learning is (to bestow) the greatest of all gifts, and it surpasses those (other gifts).
  20. A learned man who, free from envy, follows this rule of conduct which procures endless rewards, and which through final liberation frees him from transmigration.
  21. Or who, full of faith, pure, and subduing his senses, remembers or even hears it, will, freed from all sin, be exalted in the highest heaven.

According to the Hindu scriptures, every human owes five important karmic debts called pancha-maha-yajna: to gods, to ancestors, to guests, to mankind, and to nature.

Debt to the gods for their blessings. Repaid by rituals and offerings.

Debt to ancestors and teachers. Repaid by supporting them, having children of one’s own and passing along knowledge.

Debt to guests. Repaid by treating them as if they were gods visiting one’s home.

Debt to Mankind. Repaid by mutual cooperation and helping others by giving money, clothes, shelter and land to poor people, feeding the hungry, and helping orphans and destitute.

Debt to Nature. All humans are indebted to plants, trees, birds, animals and nature. Repaid by offering good will, food, water, or any other help that is appropriate.

So, a human to place himself in correct relations with the gods, ancestors, spirits, men, the cosmos, nature and himself must repay these debts during his or her lifetime.

Almsgiving in Islam

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Zakat (Source - infopediapk.weebly.com) (Custom)

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One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God and, so, human beings hold wealth in trust.

Islam divides the concept of charitable giving into Sadaqah or voluntary giving, and the Zakāt, an obligatory practice governed by a specific set of rules within Islamic jurisprudence.

Sadaqah is possibly a better translation of the Christian notion of ‘alms’.

Zakāt (Arabic: زكاة‎ ,”That which purifies”), the third of the five pillars of Islam, is the mandatory practice of charitable almsgiving. Every mentally stable, free, and financially sound adult Muslim, male or female, has to pay Zakāt to ease the economic hardship of others and end the inequality of financial status. Zakāt consists of giving 2.5% of one’s savings and business revenue and 5-10% of one’s harvest for distribution to the poor or needy, including slaves, debtors, and travelers. As such, Zakāt plays a much larger role in Islamic charity.

Qur'an 9_60

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah . And Allah is Knowing and Wise.
(The Holy Qur’an 9:60)

Almsgiving in Judaism

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Tzedakah pouch and gelt (Yiddish for coins - money) on fur-like padding. (Photo - Cheskel Dovid)

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In Hebrew, Tzedakah literally means righteousness but is commonly used to signify charity. In Judaism, Tzedakah refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just. It is considered one of the greatest deeds that a human can do. In practice, most Jews carry out Tzedakah by donating a part of their income to charitable institutions, or to needy people that they may come across.

Traditional Jews practice “ma’aser kesafim,” tithing 10% of their income to support those in need. Jewish farmers leave the corners of their fields for the starving to harvest for food. They do not pick up any grain dropped while harvesting because such food may benefit the starving.

Jews perform special acts of Tzedakah on significant days. At weddings, it is a tradition among couples to offer charity to symbolize the sacred character of  marriage. It is traditional at Passover to be welcome hungry strangers, and feed them at the table. During the joyous holiday of Purim, to increase the total happiness, it is obligatory for every Jew to offer food to one other person, and gifts to at least two poor people, in an amount that would equate to a meal each.

Jews are cautioned about how they give out Tzedakah  money. They should check the credentials and finances to be sure that their Tzedakah money will be used wisely, efficiently and effectively.

Also, they are admonished:

Do not rob the poor because they are poor, nor crush the needy at the gate;” (Proverbs 22:22)

Jews are taught that Tzedakah money was never theirs to begin with, rather, it always belongs to God, who merely entrusts them with it so that they may use it properly. Hence, it is their obligation to ensure that it is received by those deserving of it.

Almsgiving in Christianity

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James Tissot, "The Lord's Prayer" (1886-96)
James Tissot, “The Lord’s Prayer” (1886-96)

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Jesus spoke of almsgiving thus:

“[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.

When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”  (Matthew 6:1-4)

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“The Lord has truly been raised …”


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified

He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.”

– Matthew 28:5-7

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Christ of the Millenium by Frederick Hart

Luke the Evangelist narrates the resurrection of Jesus in five parts and all the resurrection appearances take place in and around Jerusalem; moreover, they are all recounted as having taken place on Easter Sunday.

Part 1 – The women at the empty tomb (Luke 23:54–24:12)

Women At The Tomb by William Bouguereau

It was the day of preparation, and the sabbath was about to begin.

The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils.

Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.

But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.

They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.

They said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.”

And they remembered his words.

Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others.

The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone; then he went home amazed at what had happened.

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Part 2 – The appearance to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35)

Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast.

One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?”

And he replied to them, “What sort of things?”

They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.

But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.

Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.

Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”

And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.

As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther.

But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”

So he went in to stay with them.

And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.

With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.

Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”

So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”

Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

In the above episode Luke focuses on the interpretation of scripture by the risen Jesus and the recognition of him by his disciples in the breaking of the bread.

  • Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. (Luke 24:27)
  • And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:30-31)

Luke mentions Emmaus as situated seven miles from Jerusalem.

  • Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, (Luke 24:13)

Seven miles: literally, “sixty stades.” A stade was 607 feet. Some manuscripts read “160 stades” or more than eighteen miles.

The exact location of Emmaus is disputed by scholars.

In all the resurrection stories a consistent feature is that the risen Jesus appeared differently even to his close associates and was initially unrecognizable.

  • When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. (John 20:14)
  • but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. (Luke 24:16)
  • But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. (Luke 24:37)
  • After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country. (Mark 16:12)
  • When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. (John 21:4)

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Part 3 –  The appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36–43)

While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”

And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.

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Part 4 –  Jesus’ final instructions (Luke 24:44–49)

He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And [behold] I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

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Part 5 – The Ascension (Luke 24:50–53)

Then he led them [out] as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them.

As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.

They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.

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Christ is risen from the dead – المسيح قام من بين الأموات

This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it

Jesus is risen from the dead
Defeating death by death
And giving life to those in the grave

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The Magnificat: The Song of Mary / The Canticle of Mary


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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The Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli
The Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli

Mary Visits Elizabeth – Luke 1:39-45

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said,

“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

    • When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, (Luke 1:41)

is reflected in

    • But the children jostled each other in the womb so much that she exclaimed, “If it is like this, why go on living!” She went to consult the LORD, (Genesis 25:22)
    • And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of [the] Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. (Luke 1:14-16)

Also,

    • cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. (Luke 1:42)

has similarities in

    • While he was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” (Luke 11:27-28)
    • Most blessed of women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, blessed among tent-dwelling women! (Judges 5:2)
    • Then Uzziah said to her, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies. (Judith 13:18)
    • Blessed be the fruit of your womb, the produce of your soil and the offspring of your livestock, the issue of your herds and the young of your flocks! (Deuteronomy 28:4)

And then Elizabeth says,

    • “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)

Even before his birth, Jesus is identified in Luke as the Lord through the phrase,

    • “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:45)

Luke portrays Mary as a believer whose faith stands in contrast to the disbelief of Zechariah,

    • “But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” (Luke 1:20).

Mary’s role as a believer in the infancy narrative should be seen in connection with the explicit mention of her presence among “those who believed” after the resurrection at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles:

    • All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:14).

The Magnificat

Although Mary is praised for being the mother of the Lord and because of her belief, she reacts as the servant in a psalm of praise, the Magnificat.

The Magnificat or “[My soul] magnifies” in Latin is also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary. It is a canticle frequently sung liturgically in Christian church services. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn. The name comes from the first word of the Latin version of the canticle’s text.

Because there is no specific connection of the canticle in the context of Mary’s pregnancy and her visit to Elizabeth, the Magnificat with the possible exception

    • For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. (Luke 1:48)

may have been a Jewish-Christian hymn that Luke found appropriate at this point in his story. Even if this canticle was not composed by Luke, it fits in well with the themes found elsewhere in Luke:

    • joy and exultation in the Lord;
    • the lowly being singled out for God’s favor;
    • the reversal of human fortunes;
    • the fulfillment of Old Testament promises.

The loose connection between the hymn and the context is further seen in the fact that a few Old Latin manuscripts identify the speaker of the hymn as Elizabeth, even though the overwhelming textual evidence makes Mary the speaker.

The Song of Hannah

The canticle echoes several biblical passages from the Old Testament. The most pronounced allusions are to the Song of Hannah, from the Books of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10) ,

1 And Hannah prayed:
“My heart exults in the LORD,
my horn is exalted by my God.
I have swallowed up my enemies;
I rejoice in your victory.

2 There is no Holy One like the LORD;
there is no Rock like our God.

3 Speak boastfully no longer,
Do not let arrogance issue from your mouths.
For an all-knowing God is the LORD,
a God who weighs actions.

4 “The bows of the mighty are broken,
while the tottering gird on strength.

5 The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,
while the hungry no longer have to toil.
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.

6 “The LORD puts to death and gives life,
casts down to Sheol and brings up again.

7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich,
humbles, and also exalts.

8 He raises the needy from the dust;
from the ash heap lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage.
“For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and he has set the world upon them.

9 He guards the footsteps of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall perish in the darkness;
for not by strength does one prevail.

10 The LORD’s foes shall be shattered;
the Most High in heaven thunders;
the LORD judges the ends of the earth.
May he give strength to his king,
and exalt the horn of his anointed!”

Along with the Benedictus, as well as several Old Testament canticles, the Magnificat is included in the Book of Odes, an ancient liturgical collection found in some manuscripts of the Septuagint.

The original language of the Magnificat is Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament. However, in the liturgical and devotional use of the Western Church, it is most often found in Latin or the vernacular.

English Scripture text: Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm:
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
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, in remembrance of His mercy;
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen

Latin (present official Roman Catholic form)
Magníficat ánima mea Dóminum,
et exsultávit spíritus meus
in Deo salvatóre meo,
quia respéxit humilitátem
ancíllæ suæ.Ecce enim ex hoc beátam
me dicent omnes generatiónes,
quia fecit mihi magna,
qui potens est,
et sanctum nomen eius,
et misericórdia eius in progénies
et progénies timéntibus eum.
Fecit poténtiam in bráchio suo,
dispérsit supérbos mente cordis sui;
depósuit poténtes de sede
et exaltávit húmiles.
Esuriéntes implévit bonis
et dívites dimísit inánes.
Suscépit Ísrael púerum suum,
recordátus misericórdiæ,
sicut locútus est ad patres nostros,
Ábraham et sémini eius in sæcula.Glória Patri et Fílio
et Spirítui Sancto.
Sicut erat in princípio,
et nunc et semper,
et in sæcula sæculórum.
Amen.