s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Christmas carols: Seven Joys of Mary

Friday, April 17, 2009

Christmas carols: Seven Joys of Mary

I was surprised at how much trouble I had finding videos of this song. When I first searched for it on YouTube, I got six hits of which one was usable (it's the second one included here) another one was just passable and four were no good. It turns out, though, that this song is known by a variety of names, including "The Seven Joys of Mary," "The Seven Rejoices of Mary," "The Blessings of Mary," "Joys Seven" and "Joyis Fyve." (That last one is from Back in The Day, when Mary had only five joys, and she was lucky to have them!) There are also a number of variations on the tune. The one I know best is sung by the King's College Choir, below.

I always thought this carol was kind of odd because it talks about things like the crucifixion as a "joy" of Mary. I always figured they left it in because the song tells the whole life of Jesus, and they couldn't really skip over that part. Or maybe it was a joy because, in the long run, it was a good thing (even if it was sad at the time). Learning the history of this song gave me another explanation for how Christ's crucifixion ended up in the middle of Mary's "joys."

The idea of counting Mary's joys has its roots in the rosary, which consists of sets of five "mysteries" (the Joyful Mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries). Five was therefore a religiously significant number and many prayers were written which featured that number. (And, as I mentioned before, a very old version of this song is known as "Joyis Fyve.") Later on, the number of joys began to vary a bit, and often centered around other religiously significant numbers, such as seven (days of Creation, deadly sins, cardinal virtues, etc.). This change in number may also have been influenced by the Protestant traditions, which had no tie to the fives of the rosary. So, my theory is that you start out with five joys that tie in with the "joyful mysteries" of the rosary, and then you have to borrow the extra two "joys" from other parts of the rosary, so they don't quite fit. Sure enough, "joy" number six correlates nicely with one of the "sorrowful mysteries" (carrying the crucifix) and joy number seven correlates with one of the "glorious mysteries" (ascending into heaven). To be fair, only one of the first five corresponds neatly with the canonical "joyful mysteries" (the nativity), but I still like my theory.

It should be noted that, in addition to the variations in tunes for this song, there are several versions of the lyrics, so other versions of the lyrics may map differently to the rosary. Also, one of the versions goes all the way up to ten blessings, but the tenth blessing is, inexplicably "To think that her Son Jesus, could write without a pen." I'm not familiar with that particular miracle, so I guess they were just really desperate for a rhyme.

So, with that very long introduction, I give you three variations on "The Seven Joys of Mary":

"Joys Seven," Choir of King's College, Cambridge, 2007:

"The Seven Joys of Mary," Raymond Crooke, 2007:

"The Seven Rejoices of Mary," Loreena McKennit:


At April 18, 2009 1:54 PM, Blogger CavDawg said...

I thought the choir sounded dandy. The guy on the guitar... eh.

I didn't listen to the third one.

Well gathered.


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