Defined as Magnificat in Latin meaning magnifies, it is the song of the Virgin Mary, beginning “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” (my soul doth magnify the Lord), from Luke 1:46-55. The magnificat is the daily vesper hymn of the Roman Catholic Church and is usually sung at evening prayer in the Church of England.

Perhaps for fear of venerating Mary, Protestants have tended to go to the opposite extreme and practically ignore her. Studies of biblical mothers such as Sarah, Isaac's mother; Rachel, Joseph's mother, Hannah, Elizabeth, Abigail, and Deborah abound. But when it comes to Mary, who was chosen by God to give life and nurture to Jesus, the Protestants are curiously reticent.

Though some scholars have contended that this canticle was a song of Elizabeth (the wife of Zechariah and the mother of John the Baptist), a relative of Mary, most early Greek and Latin manuscripts regard it as the "Song of Mary"or sometimes called the Canticle of Mary in the Gospel of Luke 1:46-55. Also known as “The Magnificant” in some areas of the world, elaborate musical settings have been created for the Magnificat. One of the most familiar examples is the Bach Magnificat which was composed during his first year in Leipzig for the Christmas service of 1723. Also chanted in all eight modes of plainsong it has been the subject of numerous other settings.

And Mary said:

    "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all
    generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for
    me-- holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation
    to generation
    . He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered
    those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from
    their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to
    be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." Luke 1:46-55
In The Magnificat, Mary praises God because what God has done for her is a sign of what God has done and will do for all people especially the poor, the excluded, the marginalized, the voiceless peoples of all ages.

Luke has recorded in his narrative the first Christmas song. The very first Christmas carol and he pens wonderful melody Mary hears sounds like a symphony in two movements, first God re-establishing the relationship with humanity and, second, that new relationship changes the way we are to relate to one another. Luke relates it as a song of joy in difficult times. A young girl, pregnant, unmarried and afraid, sings the song. Mary was a very ordinary poor, young, uneducated Jewish female. Unwed mothers were either executed or ostracized and Mary had nothing going for her except God. Luke’s chorus of Mary’s Magnificant is an exclamation of joy

    “My soul magnifies the Lord,
    My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
and a song of triumph in tragedy it is a song of the celebration of God’s use of the seemingly insignificant for God’s significant purpose.
    “He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden”
It is a message of hope.... the ability to hear the melody of the future and faith is the courage to dance to its tune today.

The following is the Magnificat in the Latin Vulgate version:

    Magnificat anima mea Dominum et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo
    salutari meo
    quia respexit humilitatem ancillae
    suae
    ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent
    omnes generationes
    quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est
    et sanctum nomen eius
    et misericordia eius in progenies et
    progenies timentibus eum
    fecit potentiam in brachio suo dispersit
    superbos mente cordis sui
    deposuit potentes de sede et
    exaltavit humiles
    esurientes implevit bonis et divites
    dimisit inanes
    suscepit Israhel puerum suum
    memorari misericordiae
    sicut locutus est ad patres nostros
    Abraham et semini eius in saecula.

The English Revised Standard Version:

    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
    will 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
    for ever.
Many thanks to Quizro who relates the following about the Magnificat. From the book 'Amazing Grace' by Kathleen Norris: "The Magnificat's message is so subversive that for a period during the 1980s the government of Guatemala banned its public recitation." Cool!

Sources:

britannica.com
http://www.britannica.com/

The Gospel of Luke

infoplease.com
http://lycos.infoplease.com/

Mag*nif"i*cat (?), n. [L., it magnifies.]

The song of the Virgin Mary, Luke i. 46; -- so called because it commences with this word in the Vulgate.

 

© Webster 1913.

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