Mary's Sunday

by David Ouzts, Minister of Music and Liturgy

Our Revised Common Lectionary is very rich and quite fun for a sacred musician when searching for companion music, anthems and hymns most especially. The Advent readings are similar each Lectionary Year ABC: the First Sunday of Advent is the “wait and watch” theme, while the Second and Third Sundays are devoted to John the Baptist crying in the wilderness. The Fourth Sunday, however, is most definitely “Mary’s Sunday.”

The Fourth Sunday of Advent gospel readings are the Annunciation, either Joseph in a dream (Year A, Matthew) or to Mary directly (Year B, Luke). For this Sunday (Dec. 20), the gospel is the Visitation (Year C, Luke), Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth during which the baby “leaped in her womb.” The scene ends with Mary’s proclamation that we now know as that great canticle the Magnificat.

Our two Communion hymns at the 10:30 liturgy this Sunday morning are Mary-specific. “The angel Gabriel from heaven came,” otherwise known as Gabriel’s Message or The Basque Carol, will be followed by “Ye who claim the faith of Jesus” by contemporary Episcopal composer David Hurd (b. 1950). This beautiful, gently rocking tune ends with the English translation of the Magnificat as stanza four while the Latin Magnificat is sung simultaneously over it as a descant by the sopranos. Ingenious, in my opinion!

A setting of another traditional carol, The Linden Tree Carol¸ is the anthem at the Offertory, music arranged by contemporary British composer Malcolm Archer (b. 1952). Sadly, not much is known about this German carol other than it was translated by the Reverend George Ratcliff Woodward (1848-1934), a prolific English poet, writer and editor who also gave us “Ding, dong, merrily on high” and “This joyful Eastertide,” also Holy Communion parish favorites. 

I am always intrigued when poetic verse includes direct quotations, and Woodward’s translation of The Linden Tree Carol includes two:

“Hail Mary!” quoth the angel mild, 
“Of womankind the fairest:
The Virgin ay shalt thou be styled,
A babe although thou bearest.”   

 And Mary’s response in Verse 4 is Woodward’s nod to the Magnificat:   

“So be it!” God’s handmaiden cried,
“According to thy telling.” 
Whereon the angel smartly hied
Up homeward to his dwelling.

Image: Leonardo da Vinci's The Annunciation.

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 13:53