On the last day of May – the month dedicated to Our Blessed Lady – we celebrate the joyful feast of ‘the Visitation’, where Mary is greeted in great exultation by her cousin Elizabeth, “Blessed art though among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb”. The unborn baby, St. John the Baptist, leaps with joy in his mother’s womb in recognition of the arrival of another unborn baby, His Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in the Immaculate womb of His Mother Mary. Mary sings her jubilant song of praise, ‘the Magnificat’, for the wonders God has wrought in her.
This piece, First Great Service: Magnificat by the Voces Cantabiles (Barnaby Smith conducting) was composed by, Robert Parsons (1530-72).*
For a deeply insightful understanding of Mary’s Magnificat, please see here.
Finally, some words of wisdom from St. Bernard, Doctor of the Church:
“O Mary, how great is your humility when you hasten to serve others. If it is true that he who humbles himself will be exalted, who will be more exalted than you who have humbled yourself so much?
When Elizabeth caught sight of you she was astonished and exclaimed: “Whence is this to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” But I am still more astonished to see that you, as well as your Son, came not to be served, but to serve…
Humility did not make you fainthearted, magnanimity did not make you proud, but these two virtues were perfectly combined in you! O Mary, you cannot give me a share in your great privileges as Mother of God; these belong to you alone! But you want me to share in your virtues, giving me examples of them in yourself. If, then, sincere humility, magnanimous faith, and delicate sympathetic charity are lacking in me, how can I excuse myself? O Mary, O Mother of mercy, you who are full of grace, nourish us, your poor little ones, with your virtues!”
* (Although little is known about the life of Robert Parsons, it is likely that he started his musical career as a choir boy. He was an assistant to Richard Bower, Master of the Chapel Royal on 17th October 1563 and may have taught William Byrd who succeeded to his post as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal following Parsons’ death by drowning near Newark-on-Trent. His work consisted of a number of sacred and secular vocal compositions, nine pieces in Latin including his Ave Maria, two Services in English, two anthems in English, and a few instrumental pieces including five In nomines. ‘Peccantem me quotidie’ dates very clearly from Mary Tudor’s reign because Parsons designed its structure to conform to the liturgical needs of the Sarum rite.)