An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


This song of praise, also known as “The Song of Mary,” is from the account in Lk 1:46-55 of Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth when Mary was pregnant with Jesus and Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist. It is attributed to Mary in the Lucan narrative, but a minority of ancient authorities attributed it to Elizabeth. The term is from the opening words of the passage in the Latin Vulgate, Magnificat anima mea Dominum (“My soul magnifies the Lord”). The Magnificat strongly resembles and may have been modeled after the Song of Hannah (1 Sm 2:1-10), which is quite similar in its structure and themes. Both songs emphasize God’s holiness and power, God’s option for the poor and judgment on the rich, the fulfillment of God’s promises, and the redemption of God’s people.

The Magnificat is the traditional canticle of vespers. It was the only canticle for use after the first lesson of Evensong in the 1549 BCP. It was not used in the 1789 American BCP, but it was restored in the 1892 BCP. The 1928 BCP allowed its use as the only canticle at Evening Prayer when one lesson was read. The 1979 BCP permits use of the Magnificat at both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. It appears as Canticles 3 and 15 in the BCP, and it is printed in both the Rite 1 and Rite 2 forms for Evening Prayer. It may also be used at the Act of Thanksgiving in the Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child (BCP, pp. 441-442).

The Hymnal 1982 has a variety of settings for the Magnificat (S 242-S 247), including Plainsong, Tonus Peregrinus, adapted by Bruce E. Ford (S 242) and the setting Cathedral of the Isles by Betty Carr Pulkingham (S 247). The hymn text “Tell out, my soul” by Timothy Dudley-Smith (Hymns 437-438) is based on the Song of Mary.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.