Most Highly Favored Lady
Music associated with the Annunciation is not as familiar as is the music linked with the narrative of the Nativity, so the musical compositions of the two seasons are frequently conflated. During the Advent and Christmas seasons, texts that recount Gabriel's startling announcement to the young Virgin Mary are often sung in conjunction with texts about the manger, the shepherds, and the angels. Hymnals that include Sabine Baring-Gould's translation of the traditional Basque carol, "The angel Gabriel from heaven came," may designate it as a hymn to be sung on March 25th. But that carol is probably more commonly heard around December 25th, via recordings of Christmas music rather than congregational singing.
Many such recordings also feature performances of the thirteenth-century carol "Angelus ad Virginem," sometimes sung in English translation as "Gabriel from Heaven-King." The first three stanzas of this five-stanza carol (which is mentioned in "The Miller's Tale" in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales)are a fairly straightforward paraphrase of St. Luke's account in his Gospel. Then the fourth stanza sweeps swiftly past the story of the birth, even bypassing the earthly life of Jesus, to bring us straight to Calvary:
The angel disappeared, and at once the girl's womb swelled up by the power of the birth of Salvation. He, having been contained in the womb for nine months, came out from it and entered the conflict, taking on his shoulder the Cross, by which he gave the blow to the mortal enemy.
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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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