My Soul Doth Magnify The Lord

This week we have welcomed people from across the Diocese and beyond to take part in a day of singing and learning about the Anglican church’s great tradition of choral evensong. The event, organised by our local branch of the Friends of Cathedral Music, brought together members of this group, the wider public, and the choirs of St John’s Ranmoor and the Cathedral.

A Distinctive Liturgy

Choral evensong is perhaps the Church of England’s most distinctive liturgy and most important contribution to worship in this country; it is at the centre of everything that I do here at the Cathedral, and is the reason why I wanted to work in cathedral music in the first place.   

A wonderful sense of expectation hangs in the air before the service begins, as the mysterious sound of the organ begins to fill the Cathedral. The opening response between priest and choir sets the mood for the whole service:

O Lord, open thou our lips:
and our mouth shall show forth thy praise.

The psalm provides space for reflection on our relationship with God, and can be of any mood, from the heights of joy to the depths of sorrow. The readings alternate with two great canticles – the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis.

Join The Anthem

The Magnificat is one of my favourite biblical texts, coming from the moment in the gospel of Luke when Mary has received news that she is to be the mother of Jesus, and its words in the 1662 form never fail to inspire:

My soul doth magnify the Lord: 
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my saviour.

The anthem is a chance to engage in text and music with the themes of the day, and the familiar responses and prayers place all of this in a context of continuing worship. I think that it is this continuity of worship that is at the heart of why I love evensong. It is the most moving thing to know that our daily offering of worship through music is just a small part of something that has been happening daily, virtually unchanged, in our cathedrals since the time of Cranmer.   

Joshua Hales
Assistant Director of Music