Sadly I didn’t study Latin at school. I am sure it would have been helpful on occasions…singing the prayers at Taize with a bit more understanding for example, but last night would have been useful too. All Saint’s Cathedral, Cairo welcomed the Cairo Choral Society and Festival Orchestra who presented as the highlight of the evening J.S. Bach’s ‘Magnificat in D’. Brilliant, soaring, moving music with Chorus and Soloists all going for it in the vast expanse of the Cathedral. Big applause at the end, bouquets for the soloists (quite rightly the men as well as the women!), everyone leaving into the Cairo night saying ‘what a wonderful evening, everyone did so well’. And it was, and they did.
Eeer, but what did they sing? Thankfully the words were all there for non Latin scholars like me. Words of St. Luke, chapter 1, verses 46-55….’My soul magnifies The Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…….’ so starts pregnant Mary as she explodes with praise when meeting with her cousin Elizabeth. Soaring words…..
But the Magnificat carries a prophetic punch. Not just any song of praise, it carries the same kingdom impact as Jesus’ later words from Isaiah in the synagogue….. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me……’. Mary magnifies The Lord God by declaring prophetically what God in Jesus is all about. ‘He has shown strength with his arm, and scattered the haughty in the imagination of their hearts. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly on high. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.’ The haughty, mighty and rich of the world will be scattered, cast down and emptied. But the lowly and hungry of the world who need strength for the day will be raised and fed. This is what is coming in the advent of Jesus.
I love my Bach as much as the next man…and felt lifted by the music. The ‘Magnificat in D’ is often sung before Christmas. ‘Mary’s song’ is recited in churches week by week. But it’s all about knowing what it means…..in any language…..and interesting to read it again in the context of seeing some of the street poverty in Egypt, visiting Kanater prison, and being aware of the Sudanese and Syrian refugees lining up for food and clothing just around the corner.