Canticles: songs of the church | Part 3: Magnificat

Flaking mural of madonna and child

BY IAN ADAMS, MISSION SPIRITUALITY ADVISER FOR CHURCH MISSION SOCIETY

The mission of the church has been shaped over two millennia. The Christ story has been practised, nurtured, pondered and shared by a huge variety of people in different contexts.

One wonderful treasure trove of this experience lies in the collection of songs we know as canticles that emerged from some of the earliest songs of the church.

These songs have been sung in times of plenty and in times of need, in times of joy and in times of persecution. Grounded in Scripture and shaped by experience, they offer gifts to us now as we seek to live and share the Jesus Way. While necessarily reshaped for time and context, their message of faith, hope and love remains the same. What might happen if we begin to speak or sing these canticles again? How might we be changed if we allow them to seep into us?

This series in The Call continues by exploring the canticle Magnificat.

Reflection

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever. *

The Magnificat is a fierce text. Unsettling and exultant, personal and cosmic, humble and bold, of its own time, yet so appropriate for our times. Now it echoes down the ages to us, encouraging us to praise, inviting us to trust, inciting us to action.

The opening section is personal.

And it is full of joy. It begins…

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…

Of course, Mary is speaking (perhaps singing!) from her story, with a unique source of joy, her call to be Theotokos, the God-bearer, the mother of God. And yet, in Christian tradition, Mary is also seen as one of us, a first disciple. And we are called to bear the Christ in our own way, where we are. So her joy is ours too. Can we allow that deep joy to surface again today, our souls proclaiming the greatness of the Lord?

The middle section of the canticle offers hope in times when injustice seems to be rampant.

He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation…

The proud in their conceit may seem to have everything sewn up. The mighty on their thrones seem to be secure, and nothing they do, however abhorrent, seems to trouble them or reduce their power.

But in God’s time they will be cast down and scattered. And the rich, for whom wealth seems to create ever more wealth, will find the emptiness that lies beneath wealth when it is wielded as power.

In contrast to the proud, powerful and wealthy, the fearful, humble lovers of God will find mercy, the lowly will be lifted up and the hungry will be filled with good things.

Please notice that Mary says the process has already begun. However tough things seem, in God’s grace, change is already underway. This offers us encouragement as we seek to travel the Jesus path through challenging times.

The canticle begins on a personal note. It expands into universal themes. It concludes with a focus on community. In Mary’s case this is her people: God’s people, the people of Israel.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

In Mary’s imagination this song is for her people. But as her son’s story unfolds it becomes clear that he will be a gift for all peoples. This great song of love is for all communities that embrace it.

So, how might this canticle be sung in your community? How, if at all, might it need translating or setting for context?

Practice

Commit to learning the Magnificat by heart. Gradually build your deep remembrance of it by speaking it (or singing it!) line by line. You might like to make it your prayer of the afternoon or early evening, joining in with others around the world who pray it at this time of day. Be curious about the effect this has upon you.

And may you find yourself, in God’s grace, increasingly living the Magnificat, as well as speaking it:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…

*Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 and published by Church House Publishing.

Back to all resources

Sign up for monthly updates on new resources

Theme
Mission spirituality
Audience
IndividualSmall group
Type
PrayerActivity

Cookie Configuration

We use cookies on our website to ensure you have the best browsing experience. Read our Privacy Policy for more information.

These cookies are necessary for the function of the website and cannot be disabled. They are used to save your preferences as you interact with our website, such as your cookie settings.

These cookies allow us to measure traffic on our website. They help us to know which pages are popular and see how visitors move around the site. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous.

These cookies are required for some of the core functionality of the website. They are set by third party content providers, such as video players and maps. If disabled, these content providers will not be loaded.

Done

We use cookies on our website to ensure you have the best browsing experience. Read our Privacy Policy for more information.

Configure Cookies Accept