Friday, December 26, 2008

Most Highly Favored Lady

The birth of God as man and the reversal of original sin - through a woman.

Reflections on Mary, the Mother of God, and her historic texts, as her feast day arrives one week after Christmas, the first day of the New Year.

The two most famous texts associated with Mary, the Mother of God, are of Biblical origin and have inspired countless compositions. These, of course, are best known in their Latin forms: the "Ave Maria" and the "Magnificat." Both texts relate to the scene of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel told Mary she had been chosen to bear the Son of God, and that of the Visitation, when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth (who was miraculously pregnant in her old age with the child later to be known as John the Baptist). The Angel and Elizabeth both greeted Mary with the "Ave," or "Hail," acknowledging her exalted status, blessed and favored among all women. In both scenes, Mary responds with acceptance and praise of the Holy Will of God. Immediately after the message of Gabriel, according to the Gospel of Luke, Mary proclaimed: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to you word."

In this year's annual Pacific Chorale Christmas concert, 'Tis the Season, I had the honor of singing the solo verse in the carol, "Gabriel's Message," whose text reflects this biblical and historic moment. In the verse I sang, the text beautifully expresses both Mary's humility and exaltation: "Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head, 'To me be as it pleaseth God,' she said. 'My soul shall laud and magnify His holy name.' Most highly favored lady, Gloria." This last part of the verse (and the title of this post) is the refrain for every strophe, reminding us of the initial greeting of Gabriel and of Elizabeth - "Hail... the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women," as it is most often heard in the "Ave Maria" or the "Hail Mary."

A few selections from the December 21st concert were broadcast on local classical radio station,
91.5 FM KUSC, including Gabriel's Message. The morning of that concert, I had sung a version of the Magnificat at my church as a solo with choral response. The previous weekend, as ironic as it may seem, I had sung in the choir of another local church as a last-minute soprano sub for performances of Bach's Magnificat, and remembered performing the same work and the solo, "Quia respexit," for Dr. Gordon Paine while getting my Bachelor in Music at Cal State Fullerton.

The Magnificat seems to be a part of my own journey, as does the Ave Maria - only this morning, I sang the Schubert Ave Maria, and although I've sung it an innumerable amount of times, there is always new meaning to be found, especially when I look at the context of my own life and what surrounds me. In my recital, I will sing a song whose text bears strong resemblance to the Ave: "Maria, dolce Maria," by Francesca Caccini.

Here are the texts of these two (songs? prayers? poems? masterpieces of spiritual insight?) in the form generally used and recognized:

Text of the Ave Maria (also the Hail Mary prayer):

Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Hail/Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death.
(Hail Mary.)

Text of the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices
in God my savior,
For He has regarded the lowliness
of his handmaiden.

For behold, henceforth
all generations shall call me blessed.
For He who is mighty
has done great things for me,
and holy is His name.
And His mercy is from age to age
on those who fear Him.

He has shown strength with His arm:
He has scattered the proud in mind and heart.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he has sent away empty .
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of His mercy;
As He promised to our fathers,
Abraham and his descendants forever.

Image: "Annunciation," c.1660, by Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo (1618-1682).

Copyright © 2008. All textual materials are the sole property of Lorraine Joy Welling and may not be reproduced, copied, or used in any way without permission.

1 comment:

  1. In October, 2008, the United Methodist Women of Christ Church by the Sea, Newport Beach, held their annual women's retreat. Led by Diana Hensley and the Rev. Holly Reinhart-Marean, part of the retreat plan was to contemplate the role of women in God's world and in our individual lives. As part of that plan, we looked at the important part that Mary played in bringing about the incarnation of Christ. Each woman was going to write her own song of praise for God in her life.
    We needed a vocal meditation of The Magnificat.
    As a beautiful and miraculous answer to prayer, Lorraine Joy Welling was able to provide The Magnifcat for us, a cappella, in both Latin and English. I could not have imagined such a lovely expression and representation of Mary's praise as Lorraine selected and sang for us. We were transported and the memory lingers. Thank you, Lorraine. Diana Dessery Hensley