Issue 71: The “Mag and Nunc”

File:Simone Martini - The Annunciation and Two Saints.JPG

Clearly, the whole Christmas story should begin nine months before, with the feast of “the Annunciation” on 25th march, also known as “Lady Day”. This Christian feast celebrates the “Angel Gabriel” appearing to Mary to tell her that she has been chosen to be the mother of Jesus: Mary’s response is known as “the Magnificat”, from the opening words, “My soul doth magnify (praise) the Lord”

In the UK, we are used to the idea of the Christmas season lasting for just 12 days, thanks in no small part to the popular Christmas song of that name.

Cue John Denver and the Muppets: There could be a whole post on the hidden theology of this apparently secular song, but maybe another time, in another place!

While some people will already have dismantled and cleared all sign away oif Christmas away (one head teacher I knew did this on Boxing Day!) most of us will wait until “Twelfth Night”, the 5th January. There is some discussion as to whether the 5th or the 6th is the Twelfth Day (does this really matter, in the grand scheme of things?). We shall be singing Christmas Carols in Church tomorrow, on Sunday 6th January.

However, other Christian traditions celebrate the season of Christmas for 40 days, until the feast of Candlemas on 2nd February. This feast day is celebrates the presentation of the baby Jesus at the temple. In the gospel, Simeon, a prophet, speaks the words that are known as the “Nunc Dimittis”. (Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart).

These two great prayers have been said or sung at every evensong service, and are known as “The Mag and Nunc”. They have inspired countless choral settings over the ages:

Palestrina magnificat

Palestrina nunc dimittis

Arvo Part nunc dimittis

Arvo Part magnificat

Happy Christmas to you all, for another month yet!

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