I wish there was a YouTube video I could share with you, but as of yet, there is not. You’ll have to just trust me that the Betty Carr Pulkingham setting of the Mary’s Magnificat is legit and that if your congregation isn’t singing Mary’s Song this week, your worship will be sorely lacking. If you have a hymnal handy, you should pull it out and open it to S247. If you do, you’ll not that Pulkingham uses the opening verse of Mary’s famous hymn of joyful hope as an antiphon, which is just a fancy church word for a refrain. It is set as a canon in two parts. The way the setting is written, there is a certain highlight on the opening words of Mary in the ICET translation of the original Greek text.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
The focus of Pulkingham’s antiphon is on Mary’s proclamation, which is interesting, given that the title Magnificat is Latin for the Greek word that Luke’s gives Mary’s Song, that is better translated at “magnify.” I haven’t been able to locate the ICET’s working documents on the Magnificat translation, so I cannot be sure why they made the switch from magnify to proclaim, but I’m certain they didn’t do it without careful consideration.
While I take great delight in the old version, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” there seems to be something important about this newer version’s attention to proclamation. Mary’s intent, it seems, isn’t simply to shine a light on the greatness of God so that she and Elizabeth can experience it, but rather, her ministry as the God bearer is to show forth the greatness of God for all the world to see. By proclaiming that God has looked with favor on an unwed mother and that God is already in the process of turning the world upside down: casting down the mighty, scattering the proud, lifting up the lowly, and filling the hungry with good things; Mary is shouting from the rooftops the Good News that will come to completion in the life, death, and resurrection of her Son.
As we read and/or sing the Song of Mary this Sunday, mere hours before we light the Christ candle and rejoice in the birth of our Lord and King, it might be worthwhile to spend a few moments pondering the importance of proclamation, both in Mary’s Magnificat and in our own lives as disciples of the soon-to-be newborn King.