Magnificat (Canticle of Mary)

views updated


Mary's song of thanksgiving and praise for the mighty act that God had wrought in her and for the salvation that has been given to Israel (Lk 1.4655) is called the Magnificat after the first word of its Latin text. The canticle, which was sung by the Blessed Virgin Mary when greeted by her cousin Elizabeth as the mother of Our Lord (Lk 1.4655), comprises three parts. In 1.46 to1.50 Mary, the eschatological personification of her people, sings praise to God her Savior; in 1.51 to 1.53 she recalls what God has done for Israel, and in 1.54 to 1.55 she sings of the divine plan foretold in Abraham and perfected in herself. In Mary a new beginning has been made as well as a fulfillment.

The Magnificat is used in the Eastern liturgies on certain days in the morning Office, while in the Western Church it has been, from a very early date, the canticle of vespers (Evening Prayer) in the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran traditions. In solemn Vespers in the Catholic tradition, the ceremonies accompanying its singing in choir, such as incensation of the altar (as at the beginning of solemn Mass), are impressive. By reason of its daily use in medieval times a number of antiphons have been associated with the Magnificat, among them the notable o antiphons of the week preceding christmas.

Bibliography: r. c. tannehill, "Magnificat as Poem," Journal of Biblical Literature 93 (1974) 263275. f. flecken stein, "Marienverehrung in der Musik," in Handbuch der Marienkunde (Regensburg 1984) 622663. r. e. brown, "The Annunciation to Mary, the Visitation, and the Magnificat (Luke 1:2656)," Worship 62 (1988) 249259. r. f. taft, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West: The Origins of the Divine Office and Its Meaning for Today, 2d rev. ed. (Collegeville, Minn. 1993). g. guiver, Company of Voices: Daily Prayer and the People of God (New York 1988). p. f. bradshaw, Daily Prayer in the Early Church: A Study of the Origin and Early Development of the Divine Office (London 1981).

[m. e. mciver/

l. j. wagner/eds.]