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Poetic Vespers for the Conception of Mary, the Mother of God[1]



ANTIPHON          Psalm 42:1-2

As the deer yearns for running streams, so my soul yearns for you, my God;
my soul thirsts for God, the living God.



O God, who brought into being your servant Mary so that by your grace she might bring your Christ into the world and become thereby the Mother of God, grant us the grace to know your power in bringing peace, your will in creating goodness, and your love in giving birth to joy, the same Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


MUSIC: Magnificat” from Claudio Monteverdi, Vespro Della Beata Vergine (Marian Vespers) :,

POEM: Mechtild of Magdeburg, from The Flowing Light of the Godhead


Love flows from God to humanity without effort
As a bird glides through the air
Without moving its wings –
Thus they go whither they will
United in body and soul
Yet in their form separate –
As the Godhead strikes the note
Humanity sings,
The Holy Spirit is the harpist
And all the strings must sound
Which are strung in love.


MUSIC: “Nigra sum” from Claudio Monteverdi, Vespro Della Beata Vergine (Marian Vespers):

POEM: Anne Stevenson, The spirit is too blunt an instrument[2]


The spirit is too blunt an instrument
to have made this baby.
Nothing so unskilful as human passions
could have managed the intricate
exacting particulars: the tiny
blind bones with their manipulating tendons,
the knee and the knucklebones, the resilient
fine meshings of ganglia and vertebrae,
the chain of the difficult spine.

Observe the distinct eyelashes and sharp crescent
fingernails, the shell-like complexity
of the ear, with its firm involutions
concentric in miniature to minute
ossicles. Imagine the
infinitesimal capillaries, the flawless connections
of the lungs, the invisible neural filaments
through which the completed body
already answers to the brain.

Then name any passion or sentiment
possessed of the simplest accuracy.
No, no desire or affection could have done
with practice what habit
has done perfectly, indifferently,
through the body’s ignorant precision.
It is left to the vagaries of the mind to invent
love and despair and anxiety
and their pain.


MUSIC: Guiseppe Verdi, “La vergine degli angeli” from La Forza del Destino:

POEM: Gerard M. Hopkins, S.J., from The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe[3]


Wild air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;

This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.

If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.

Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn
Bethlem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.

Again, look overhead
How air is azurèd;
O how! nay do but stand
Where you can lift your hand
Skywards: rich, rich it laps
Round the four fingergaps.
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steepèd sky will not
Stain light.   Yea, mark you this:
It does no prejudice.
The glass-blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows.

Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it.
Or if there does some soft,
On things aloof, aloft,
Bloom breathe, that one breath more
Earth is the fairer for.

Whereas did air not make
This bath of blue and slake
His fire, the sun would shake,
A blear and blinding ball
With blackness bound, and all
The thick stars round him roll
Flashing like flecks of coal,
Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,
In grimy vasty vault.

So God was god of old:
A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man’s mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.

Be thou then, thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.


MUSIC: Part 8, from Claudio Monteverdi, Vespro Della Beata Vergine (Marian Vespers):
About This Service

Poem texts are taken from Mark Pryce, ed., Literary Companion to the Festivals (Fortress, 2003), from the feasts of St. Margaret of Scotland, Mechtild of Magdeburg, and the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


Music for the Vespers of Mary

“Magnificat” from Claudio Monteverdi, Vespro Della Beata Vergine (Marian Vespers) performed by the ensemble Pygmalion and the Dutch National Opera:,

“Nigra sum” from Claudio Monteverdi, Vespro Della Beata Vergine (Marian Vespers), performed by the ensemble Pygmalion and the Dutch National Opera:

Guiseppe Verdi, “La vergine degli angeli” from La Forza del Destino, sung by Eva-Maria Westbroek and the Dutch National Opera & Ballet:

Part 8, from Claudio Monteverdi, Vespro Della Beata Vergine (Marian Vespers), performed by The Monteverdi Choir, The London Oratory Junior Choir, and The English Baroque Soloists, dir. John Eliot Gardiner.


Resources (available for free online)

These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.

This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.

The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office,

Links to church websites – National, Diocesan and our church’s website.

The Episcopal Church:

Episcopal News Service:

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington:

St. Mark’s, Fairland:


A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

[1] Music for this service is available via the YouTube links placed throughout the service. Please stop the service video and click the links on the service bulletin to open the music.

[2] Anne Stevenson, “The Spirit is Too Blunt an Instrument” from Poems 1955-2005. Copyright © 2005 by Anne Stevenson. Reprinted with the permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd. Accessed via:

[3] The complete poem may be found at: