Magnificat: Why Magnificat?

In December 1997, my church choir director Margaret Kvamme handed us a thick piece of music with the word “Magnificat” written on the front and “Charles Pachelbel” (the son of Johann Pachelbel of Canon in D fame) as the composer. Being a new Christian, it was the first time I had really encountered the text on its own and singing that setting made me want to explore it more. I had another opportunity to engage with it the next year during my first quarter at UC Santa Cruz when I did the Porpora setting of the text with the Women’s Chorale. Margaret, who also directed the Women’s Chorale, made sure that we understood the words of what we were singing, and the text impacted me more through singing that setting.

A few years later, I encountered the Prayer of Hannah in my Old Testament I class in seminary, and I could see the parallels between it and the Magnificat. Nothing in the Bible stands on its own, and I believe Mary would have been familiar with Hannah’s prayer because she would have been raised to know the story of Samuel and how he was the last judge of Israel. It enhanced my appreciation of the Magnificat to know that there was a connection between the two texts.

When I started thinking about putting together an Advent devotional book for this year, the word Magnificat popped into my head almost immediately. It is the third person singular for “to magnify” in Latin, and my mind went back to this text that I had encountered for the first time 22 years earlier. It is one of the readings for Advent in Year C of the lectionary, and it foretells the changing of the corrupt power structures that were oppressing the poor. As history repeats itself in patterns, paraphrasing Mark Twain’s words, it is applicable even in our world today where the rich are in power and are legislating things that are detrimental to the poorest in our society.
In addition to these reflections on the Prayer of Hannah, the Magnificat, and the events surrounding it, I have assembled two YouTube playlists for those who find music to be the way they encounter God. One is comprised of various settings of the Magnificat, and the other is comprised of Advent hymns and songs.

Blessings to you in this season of preparation for the coming of Christ!
-Jen McCabe