Monday, May 31, 2010

The Feast of the Visitation

Today marks the commemoration of the Visitation, the story told in Luke 1:39-56 of Mary's visit to Elizabeth that ends with the famous song we know as the Magnificat.

The Magnificat has been sung throughout history, though mostly in basic prose translations. It is a part of the Matins liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Vespers (sometimes called Evening Prayer or Evensong) in the Western Church. Hundreds of musical settings (if not more) have been composed, a fraction of which you can see at the ChoralWiki, and it has also been sung to simpler Anglican chant.

Most modern commentary on the Magnificat emphasizes the revolutionary theme of the text, how God will turn things upside down, raising up the fallen and casting down the oppressive powers of the world. This has inspired contemporary hymnwriters such as Timothy Dudley-Smith, in his hymn Tell out, my soul, which appears in many newer hymnals, and Miriam Therese Winter, in My soul gives glory to my God.

The earliest metrical version which was sung as a hymn may be this one from the Scottish Psalter of 1650 (slightly adapted).

My soul and spirit, filled with joy,
My God and Savior praise,
Whose goodness did from poor estate
This humble servant raise.

Me blessed of God, the God of might,
All ages shall proclaim;
From age to age God's mercy lasts,
And holy is God's name.

A pow'rful arm th'Almighty showed;
The proud God's looks abased;
God cast the mighty to the ground,
The meek to honor raised.

The hungry with good things were filled,
the rich with hunger pined;
God sent to blessed Israel help,
And mercy called to mind.

Which to our forebears' ancient race
God's promise did ensure,
To Abraham and Sarah's line,
Forever to endure.

Scottish Psalter, 1650; alt.
Calvin W. Laufer, 20th cent.

This tune by Calvin Laufer (with a rather appropriate name) was not actually written for this text, but for one he wrote, O magnify the Lord with me.

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