Also, the choir will sing a very old version of another Marian oriented text, the Ave Maria, or Hail Mary. “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women, and blessed it the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” These phrases are drawn from two distinct scriptural passages. The angel Gabriel greets Mary, “Hail, full of grace”, and Elizabeth exclaims upon seeing her, “blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Later, the prayer continues, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death.” This prayer is very old and is said by Christians around the world, especially by Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican Catholics. The setting we will sing on Sunday is by Jacques Arcadelt (1507-1568), a Netherlandish composer of Renaissance music who spent most of his life in Italy and France. Arcadelt was in residence at the Papal Chapel for a time, and much of his music was performed there. In his setting of Ave Maria, Arcadelt creates a prayerful yet grand mood that seems beautifully wedded to the text.
Why all this emphasis on Mary this Sunday? I suggest that the church lists the Magnificat as an option instead of a psalm on the Third Sunday of Advent because it is one of the most joyful proclamations in history. Perhaps our rejoicing at the coming of the Messiah is more similar to the rejoicing of Mary than we realize. Although Mary rejoiced at the incarnation of God, she surely must have been intimidated and even frightened by the implications and magnitude of her role in that event. It was surely with some trepidation that she embarked on a wondrous journey that gave her joy beyond measure and yet challenged every fiber of her being! This is a great example of the Christian life, to me. So, we sing of Mary this Sunday out of love and solidarity with her as sojourners in the way of faith.
We sing with joy that our journey to Christmas is over halfway completed. There is still time to examine the quieter nature of this time, however. The organ prelude, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, by J. S. Bach (1685-1750) is one of the gems of organ literature. Although suavely done in a way that might go unnoticed by some, this piece is an arrangement of the hymn we now know as Savior of the nations, come. Listen as the accompaniment develops its own theme while the melody is ornamented and transformed like the branches of an Advent wreath. A warmer and more perfect example of quiet Advent joy would be hard to find. I pray it will help us all to rejoice more deeply and with more meaning as Christmas draws nigh.
Organist and Choir Master