The Magnificat (also known as the Song of Mary) is a canticle frequently sung (or spoken) liturgically in Christian church services. The text of the canticle is taken directly from the Gospel of Luke where it spoken by the Virgin Mary upon the occasion of her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. In the narrative, after Mary greets Elizabeth, who is pregnant with the future John the Baptist, the child moves within Elizabeth's womb. When Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith, Mary sings the Magnificat in response.
The canticle echoes several Old Testament biblical passages, but the most pronounced allusions are to the Song of Hannah, from the Books of Samuel (). Along with the Benedictus, as well as several Old Testament canticles, the Magnificat is included in the Book of Odes, an ancient liturgical collection found in some manuscripts of the Septuagint.
Within Christianity, the Magnificat is most frequently recited within the Liturgy of the Hours. In Western Christianity, the Magnificat is most often sung or recited during the main evening prayer service: Vespers within Roman Catholicism and Evening Prayer within Anglicanism. In Eastern Christianity, the Magnificat is usually sung at Sunday Matins. Within protestant groups, the Magnificat may be sung during worship services.
Like all other New Testament texts the Magnificat was originally written in Greek. However, in the Western Church it is most often to be found in Latin or the vernacular. Its name comes from the first word of the Latin version (see incipit).
- Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν Κύριον
- καὶ ἠγαλλίασεν τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐπὶ τῷ Θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου,
- ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης αυτοῦ.
- ἰδού γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί,
- ὅτι ἐποίησέν μοι μεγάλα ὁ δυνατός,
- καὶ ἅγιον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ,
- καὶ τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεὰς
- τοῖς φοβουμένοῖς αυτόν.
- Ἐποίησεν κράτος ἐν βραχίονι αὐτοῦ,
- διεσκόρπισεν ὑπερηφάνους διανοίᾳ καρδίας αὐτῶν·
- καθεῖλεν δυνάστας ἀπὸ θρόνων
- καὶ ὕψωσεν ταπεινούς,
- πεινῶντας ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν
- καὶ πλουτοῦντας ἐξαπέστειλεν κενούς.
- ἀντελάβετο Ἰσραὴλ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ,
- μνησθῆναι ἐλέους,
- καθὼς ἐλάλησεν πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν
- τῷ Αβραὰμ καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.
- Magnificat anima mea Dominum,
- et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore 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 Israel puerum suum,
- recordatus misericordiae,
- sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,
- Abraham et semini eius in saecula.
- My soul doth magnify the Lord.
- And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
- Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
- Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name.
- And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.
- He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
- He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.
- He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
- He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy:
- As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.
English (Book of Common Prayer):
- My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
- For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden.
- For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
- For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his Name.
- And his mercy is on them that fear him : throughout all generations.
- He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
- He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
- He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
- He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.
English (The Divine Office):
- My soul glorifies the Lord, *
- my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.
- He looks on his servant in her lowliness; *
- henceforth all ages will call me blessed.
- The Almighty works marvels for me. *
- Holy his name!
- His mercy is from age to age, *
- on those who fear him.
- He puts forth his arm in strength *
- and scatters the proud-hearted.
- He casts the mighty from their thrones *
- and raises the lowly.
- He fills the starving with good things, *
- sends the rich away empty.
- He protects Israel, his servant, *
- remembering his mercy,
- the mercy promised to our fathers, *
- to Abraham and his sons for ever.
English (Common Worship):
- 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 thing
- 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 text forms a part of the daily office
in the Roman Catholic Vespers
service and the Anglican
services of Evening Prayer
according to both the Book of Common Prayer
and Common Worship
(see Evening Prayer (Anglican)
). In the Book of Common Prayer
Evening Prayer service it is paired with the Nunc dimittis
. (Modern Anglican rubrics generally allow for a wider selection of canticles at Evening Prayer; but the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis remain the most popular.) In both Anglican and Roman Catholic services it is generally followed by the Gloria Patri
. It has accordingly been a popular text for many composers.
Perhaps the best known Magnificats are those from Claudio Monteverdi's Vespers for the Blessed Virgin, 1610 or the extended setting by Johann Sebastian Bach, BWV 243. In the same vein, many other "classical" composers such as Vivaldi and Rachmaninoff and more recently John Rutter have set extended versions for orchestra, chorus, and solos. However, most of these concerted settings were neither intended nor convenient for liturgical use; more often choirs will sing a shorter, simpler setting a cappella or with only organ accompaniment. Several such settings from the Renaissance remain popular (for example, that of Thomas Tallis); and nearly every composer in the 19th and 20th century Anglican choral tradition has composed one or more settings of the "Mag and Nunc", as have Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. Since these canticles are sung nearly every day at some Cathedrals and Oxbridge college chapels, there is a real need for multiple settings; at its extreme this led such composers as Charles Villiers Stanford to write a Magnificat in every major key; Herbert Howells, another noted composer of these canticles, published twenty settings of them over his career.
In Eastern Orthodox worship, the Magnificat is usually sung during the Matins service before the Irmos of the ninth ode of the canon. After each verse the troparion is sung:
- "More honourable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: true Theotokos, we magnify thee."
Society and politics
- In Nicaragua, the Magnificat is a favourite prayer among many peasants and is often carried as an amulet. During the Somoza years, campesinos were required to carry proof of having voted for Somoza and this document was mockingly referred to as the Magnificat.
- In 1998, a pocket-size monthly booklet entitled Magnificat, published in English, was edited by the Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P. By 2008, According to Magnificat.net, Rev. Peter John Cameron was still the lead editor. The Magnificat magazines include daily Mass readings, morning and evening prayers, meditations, profiles of Saints and other spiritual writings. The English-language and French-language editions have a similar format. The publisher of Magnificat also produced a Spanish-language edition and Magnifikids, a Sunday missalette for children ages 6 to 12.