(Magnificat USA LLC, New York, 1998, 421 pages, $5.95)
It is not often that we get, in one slim, pocket-sized volume, the cornucopia of spiritual bonuses that comes pouring out with Magnificat for December, 1998. The volume under review is the equivalent of a daily missal for the month of December, 1998, 3/8” thick and measuring 4.5” by 6.5.” It is this, and so much more.
In the opening editorial, Father Romanus Cessario, OP, senior editor at Magnificat (and, like Magnificat editor-in chief Father Peter John Cameron, a senior writer at the Register) explains that “the French framers of Magnificat borrowed the title for this new monthly missal from the words that our Blessed Lady spoke when, already pregnant with the Infant Christ, she visited her cousin Elizabeth: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.’ Since its European debut in 1992, Magnificat has helped countless Christian men and women to join in Mary's canticle of praise and thanksgiving to God. Now, Advent 1998 commences the publication of this highly acclaimed, low-cost missal for use by English-speaking Catholics in North America. Its widespread success in Europe persuades its American editors that many readers will want to become part of the rapidly growing Magnificat worldwide family.”
A first glance at the attractive booklet, its front a cover reproducing a 16th century study of Boccaccino's painting of The Virgin Mother and Child in glowing colors, and its back cover unfolding in four laminated pages containing the Te Deum and the three canticles of Zechariah, (prayer for the morning), Our Lady, (prayer for the evening), and Simeon, (night prayer), leads to a quick dive into the contents.
There are antiphons, prayers, Scripture readings and commentaries for the daily Eucharist covering Sundays, feasts and weekdays. A special feature entitled “Saints of Today and Yesterday” introduces many new and unsuspected friends in the Church Triumphant, both modern and ancient, who will stand us in good stead today and tomorrow. Throughout the text at strategic points are “meditations of the day,” brief selections from such disparate writers as Guerric of Igny, Dorothy Day, Pope John Paul II, Madeleine l'Engle, Henry Suso, St. Therese of Lisieux, T.S. Eliot, Jessica Powers, and St. Catherine of Siena, to mention only a few.
Hymns, psalms and canticles, readings, intercessions and prayers, all adapted from the Liturgy of the Hours, are given for morning, evening, and night prayers, which can be used individually, or by prayer groups. Add to this: reproductions in color of great works of Christian art, one each month, paired with art essays that delight as they inform. And for music lovers, there is a bevy of hymns, some even done in Gregorian chant notation with Latin and English texts. A central section of 26 pages edged in red gives the complete Ordinary of the Mass, including the Latin for the Gloria, Creed, Our Father, and Lamb of God.
The end result of this comprehensive and exquisitely crafted work is a book of enduring beauty and integrity, directed to the spiritual joy and growth of American Catholics. The production of the American Magnificat coincides aptly with the final year of preparation for Jubilee 2000. Coming in Advent, the season when the whole world is in waiting mode, and the whole Church participating in Mary's time of expectancy “in joyful hope,” it is a symbol of that joy and hope, and points us to another world, where our deepest longings will be fulfilled.
Rich in its offering of spiritual reading from the Fathers of the Church, renowned masters and teachers of the spiritual life, and modern writers outstanding for their perceptive orthodoxy, Magnificat is of special significance for today's lay Christians. Following its simple program of prayer and reflection, we enter easily into the rhythm of the Church's life from day to day, without prejudice to the needs of our apostolates at home or abroad. And we enter into a whole new world of gladness. Such an experience is captured by the Carmelite nun, Jessica Powers, in her poem offered for meditation in the first Week of Advent. Her insight cannot fail to move us at a time when the child in the womb is kept in the forefront of our consciousness by the media. It cannot fail to delight us in a season when the divine Child in Mary's womb is the focus of our daily prayer:
I live my Advent in the womb of Mary.
And on one night when a great star swings free from its high mooring and walks down the sky to be the dot above the Christus i, I shall be born of her by blessed grace.
I walk in Mary-darkness, faith's walled place, with hope's expectance of nativity.
I knew for long she carried me and fed me, guarded and loved me, though I could not see. But only now, with inward jubilee, I come upon earth's most amazing knowledge: someone is hidden in this dark with me.
Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic letter announcing the Great Jubilee, exhorts every Christian to expect a special grace of the Lord for the Church and for the whole world (No. 55). It would seem that this book could well be the channel of such a grace.
Domincan Sister Mary Thomas Noble writes from Buffalo, N.Y.