The Magnificat, and other revolutionary sentiments

By Symon Hill
August 15, 2010

For centuries, the tendency of Christian churches to uphold the political and economic order has been threatened by the socially radical nature of Jesus' teachings and much of the Bible. Nothing makes this more obvious than the Magnificat.

The Magnificat, also known as the Song of Mary, was a prayer of early Christians. The writer of Luke's Gospel puts the words into the mouth of Jesus' mother Mary, whose feast day is celebrated today (15 August).

It's surely one of the most revolutionary passages in the whole Bible, praising God who has “brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” (it can be found at Luke 1,46-55).

Sadly, I've no doubt that many churches read or sang this passage today with no regard to the radical nature of a prayer in which the hungry are filled with “good things” and the rich are sent away empty.

I was therefore delighted to hear a sermon by Hugh Valentine at St James' Church, Piccadilly, in which he focused on the utterly shocking nature of the Magnificat and linked it to modern disputes about benefits, taxation and economic inequality.

The sermon was followed by a hymn by Fred Kaan, who died last year. It is based on the Magnificat and set to the tune of The Red Flag. I reproduce it here for anyone keen on a revolutionary way of celebrating the Feast of Mary.

Sing we a song of high revolt;
Make great the Lord, his name exalt:
Sing we the song that Mary sang
Of God at war with human wrong.
Sing we of him who deeply cares
And still with us our burden bears;
He, who with strength the proud disowns,
Brings down the mighty from their thrones.

By him the poor are lifted up:
He satisfies with bread and cup
The hungry folk of many lands;
The rich are left with empty hands.
He calls us to revolt and fight
With him for what is just and right
To sing and live Magnificat
In crowded street and council flat.

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