Magnificat

Did you sing a version of the Magnificat at church this weekend? If so, see if you can find a link to a recording of the setting that you sang to share.

We sang this version to the tune of Wild Mountain Thyme, by David Haas:

I particularly love that it is set to a tune that is familiar but not trite, and that the last line of the refrain is the same as the first line.

We didn’t hear the Magnificat in the scripture readings today, because it is from the gospel of Luke and we’re reading Matthew this liturgical year. But it’s the song that Mary sings to her cousin Elizabeth, when the two women greet each other, each miraculously pregnant: Elizabeth after many years of barrenness, Mary while still a virgin. Elizabeth’s pregnancy was the sign given to Mary by the angel, and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is the primary story in which we see her pregnant, before she actually gives birth.

So it is a fitting song for the fourth Sunday of Advent, especially in light of the first reading from Isaiah which Christians traditionally believe foretells the birth of Christ: when a virgin/maiden/young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Emmanuel.

“Magnificat” is a Latin verb traditionally translated with its English cognate: My soul magnifies the LORD. Well, that sounds strange in colloquial English! One thinks of the soul holding up a large magnifying glass, aiming it at heaven. The root word magna means great, which is why some texts translate the line My soul proclaims the greatness of the LORD: let me tell you how great the LORD is!

But I kind of like magnifies, the more I think about it: Mary’s soul makes the LORD look bigger, seem closer, by means of all the good things that God has done for and through and in her. Well, isn’t that a vocation for each of us? To make the LORD seem closer to those around us, by means of how we live.

For some more word-play surrounding the Magnificat, check out this post by my BLT co-blogger J. K. Gayle, which examines how Mary’s song of praise uses exactly the same words as David’s song of praise in psalm 34, and how those words are and are not gendered in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and contemporary English translation and interpretation.

Peace be with you, on this fourth Sunday of Advent. As we enter these final days of preparation for Christmas, let’s look for little ways in which we, too, can magnify the LORD in our lives.

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