The Magnificat

Latin teacher instructs students in classroom.
Dr. John Hamel and his Latin students translate the Magnificat.


It seems fitting that in the season of Advent in a Catholic high school, students are receiving reminders at every corner about the coming of Christ. The hallways of 197 Dover Point Rd. are adorned with wreaths, Nativity scenes, a Christmas tree. Beneath our St. Thomas Aquinas statue gleam the lit Advent candles and our Chapel is decorated with inviting greenery. Messages of cheer are being distributed in many different ways and on all four floors. But leave it to Dr. John Hamel and his Latin 3-4 class to transcend contemporary signs of Advent by resourcing one of the oldest methods: Latin.  

The Magnificat is a canticle and one that is traditionally incorporated into the liturgical services of the Catholic Church. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn. The canticle’s text comes directly from the Gospel of Luke (1:46-55) where it is spoken by Mary upon the occasion of her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth.  As part of their current studies, Latin students are delving into the canticle with full force.

To translate and comprehend the Magnificat in Latin requires both a high level of mental acuity and stamina. “In mense autem sexton, missus est angelus Gabriel a Deo in civitatem Galilaeae, cui nomen erat Nazareth…” So begins the canticle and continues through the historical greeting of Mary. With demonstrative curiosity, our Saints worked their way through the canticle, openly sleuthing their way around complicated phrasing and the ever-baffling subjunctive tense.

With fewer students mastering Latin these days than ever before, our Saintly scholars can feel proud of their pursuits. College admissions teams certainly take note when seeing Latin listed on an application. Studying Latin requires abstract thinking and hard work; college admissions departments know this. And because Latin words form the roots of many English words, one’s command over vocabulary and grammar (and SAT scores) can be much improved through the study of Latin.
In a time when technology is radically changing the face of education, St. Thomas Aquinas High School realizes the importance of focusing on the new. However, with Latin, we are also proud to continue “the old.” For oftentimes it is by reviewing the past that one can best prepare for the future.