One of the objectives of Vatican II was to extend the hours of the liturgical day to all Catholics, particularly lay people. This bore fruit in a special way in 1992, when Pierre-Marie Du-mont, of France, founded Magnificat, a monthly missal that aims to bring lay people closer to God when they pray and celebrate the liturgy.
Dumont chose the name from the Blessed Mother's Magnificat prayer in Luke's Gospel (1:46-48): “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” Dumont wanted the title to reflect the joining in Mary's canticle of praise and thanksgiving to God by all men and women.
Dumont's venture has been a big success in Europe. Because of lay interest and participation, he sought an American editor to produce an English version and spread the missal to churches across the United States.
In December, Magnificat made its debut in America, under the direction of Dominican Father Peter John Cameron, editor in chief. Father Cameron writes, edits, and produces the missal from his office at St. Joseph's Seminary — Dunwoodie, in Yonkers, New York.
“Magnificat is for everyone, lay and clergy,” Father Cameron said. “What it does is make the riches of the liturgy more accessible to everyone, and provides a way to guide and deepen their spiritual lives in a way that is very meaningful.”
Before Vatican II, many lay people carried missals to Mass.
One of the most popular was the St. Joseph's Daily Missal, which gave the daily readings and included wedding and other Mass liturgies, as well as prayers for special intentions and occasions. Magnificat is, in a way, a rebirth of this, but with added features.
For example, the monthly missal includes morning and evening prayers, the complete liturgy for the Mass of the day, meditations, and even inspirational real-life stories from people who have found God or who have overcome serious personal difficulties through prayer and faith.
Meditations of the day are chosen from the writings of the Fathers of the Church and the saints, among others. Father Cameron said he also uses current writers of religious topics and inspirational stories, to augment the content of Magnificat.
Many of the prayers and meditations included in the monthly editions are written by Father Cameron. They are tied to the liturgies of the month and are intended to enrich the prayer and spiritual life of the reader. He said Magnificat underscores that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of our life” and that the missal goes to the heart of making a person's spiritual devotion more meaningful.
Father Cameron, a full-time teacher of homelitics at Dunwoodie, added that the missal also has been a great help to him in preparing his Mass homilies.
“I choose the meditations of the day to relate directly or indirectly to the liturgy,” he said. “Magnificat isn't just a prayer book; it is a spiritual guide for a person's entire day.”
Magnificat's debut American edition stated that the missal is designed to help men and women follow and learn about the Mass, not only on Sundays, but also throughout the week. The missal already has a circulation of 17,000, and new subscribers are being added daily.
Endorsement of the missal came from Mother Angelica of the Eternal Word Television Network, and America magazine also praised it in an editorial. Magnificat is published with the approval of the Committee on the Liturgy, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Father Cameron said some U.S. cardinals and bishops wrote letters to the publication, endorsing effort. This followed a mailing of the first edition to every cardinal, bishop, and priest in the United States.
Now, Magnificat staff members call pastors to let them know it is available, and Father Cameron said they send copies to those parishes who want to share it with parishioners. He said they send sufficient copies to accommodate the number of parishioners who attend daily Mass.
Father Cameron noted that many people are not only using Magnificat to enrich their own daily spiritual lives, but also are giving one-year subscriptions to family members and friends.
Father Cameron relies on sources outside Dunwoodie to help with the missal. Sister Genevieve Glen, for instance, is editor of prayers. She works from Colorado, and sends her material electronically.
“We do everything over the Internet,” Father Cameron said.
There also are contributing writers (mostly clergy and religious), and six staff members who assist Father Cameron with everything from editorial support to administrative tasks.
Lay response to Magnificat is positive. “The people love it,” Father Cameron said. He said those who receive Magnificat “say it is as if they have been reunited with a long-lost family member. They can now take their Faith into their daily life.”
One enthusiastic supporter is Helen Hull Hitchcock of St. Louis. Hitchcock is director of Women for Faith and Family and is one of three members of the Executive Committee of the Adoremus Society, which strives for the renewal of the sacred liturgy. She said she learned about Magnificat last summer, when Dumont visited St. Louis to talk about the missal.
“We're promoting it in every way we can, through Women for Faith and Family” she said. “When Mr. Dumont showed us the publication, I thought it was an excellent idea. Magnificat makes it easy for people to participate to a much greater extent in the liturgy, and gives them greatly expanded opportunities to enrich their prayer life. The prayers, rubrics, and the layout are wonderful.”
Women for Faith and Family, Hitchcock said, has a similar mission — to promote the liturgy throughout the year and make it more comprehensible for children. She added that Magnificat will do much to help people approach the liturgy in a more meaningful way and bring the Church and its messages to greater life. All members will receive copies of the missal.
Another enthusiast is Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, editor of Ignatius Press in San Francisco, who said he learned of Magnificat when he was stationed in France. Everything about the missal impressed him.
“If you are going to produce a missal, you need one that is beautifully done; Magnificat is that, and more,” he said. “The meditations are good, and having an abbreviated form of the Divine Office is great. The missal helps people prepare for Sunday Mass and also helps them meditate on the readings beyond Mass. It's a wonderful, wonderful publication.” Father Fessio said his publishing house is planning to help distribute Magnificat, starting soon.
Father Cameron said he is planning a special Holy Week edition. It will include not only the Holy Week liturgies, but also an examination of conscience and other special prayer for the most sacred week in the Catholic Church. Father Cameron said he hopes to include a Tennebrae service next year, as well.
Enhancements also will be made to the monthly issues, Father Cameron said. “We'll be adding other devotions, including the Angelus, and a treasury of prayers. Our readers will be seeing this by May or June 1999.”
Jim Malerba writes from Hamden, Connecticut.