Sep 15, 2007

Singing the Four Seasonal Marian Anthems

Alma Redemptoris | Ave, Regina Caelorum | Regina Caeli | Salve Regina

Visitors to our Carmelite monastery sometimes ask why we do two hymns at the end of Mass. We don’t; one is the seasonal Marian anthem, the other is a recessional hymn.

Carmel w JubilateDeo.html as the first Order in the Catholic Church dedicated to Mary, and one of Carmel’s sayings is “Carmel is all Mary’s”. Thus, it is traditional in Carmel — or any Marian house or church — to honor her whenever possible.

The four great seasonal Marian antiphons come from the Divine Office, office of Compline, the last of the sung hours of the day. At the close of Compline, one of the four seasonal Marian prayers was sung: Alma Redemptoris Mater, Ave Regina Caelorum, Regina Caeli, or Salve Regina.

Today the Divine Office is known as the Liturgy of the Hours, and Compline has become “Night Prayer”. Today there is the choice of those four hymns or a few others, including the Hail Mary. Traditionally, at Compline, the Latin anthem was followed by seasonal declamations and a prayer. When sung at the conclusion of Mass, only the anthem is sung.

In a Marian house, the seasonal anthem is sung on Sundays and Marian feasts throughout the year at the conclusion of Mass. At our monastery, the nuns, choir, and congregation all join in the Latin chant.

This custom is retained in many churches and cathedrals on Christmas (Alma Redemptoris) and Easter (Regina Caeli), as was seen in the Masses at the Vatican this past year.

Each anthem has a beautiful text, each chant is quite melodic. This is a tradition we at Carmel very much treasure. While we sing the traditional chant melodies at Carmel, these texts have been set to music for choirs by many composers over the ages, most notably Palestrina.

Alma Redemptoris Mater

Sung from the first Sunday of Advent until the Feast of the Purification on February 2 (the original ending date of the Christmas season), this prayer tells of Gabriel’s announcement, and of Mary’s divine motherhood. The text is credited to Herimann the Lame, a monk of Reichenau (1013-1054). Herimann’s Latinized name was Hermanus Contractus and he is sometimes also credited with the chant melody.

Alma Redemptoris Mater, quae pervia caeli porta manes et stella maris, succurre cadenti, surgere qui curat, populo: tu quae genuisti, natura mirante, tuum sanctum genitorem, Virgo prius, ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore sumens illud ave, peccatorum miserere.

This translation is by the Reverend Adrian Fortescue, 1913:

Holy mother of our Redeemer, thou gate leading to heaven and star of the sea; help the falling people who seek to rise, thou who, all nature wondering, didst give birth to thy holy Creator. Virgin always, hearing the greeting from Gabriel’s lips, take pity on sinners.

Ave Regina Caelorum

This anthem is sung from after Purification (February 2 or Candlemas) until Easter Vigil. Its earliest appearance was in the 12th century, although some also attribute this text to Herimann the Lame.

Ave regina caelorum, ave domina angelorum: salve radix, salve porta, ex qua mundo lux est orta: Gaude Virgo, gloriosa, super omnes speciosa, vale o valde decora, et pro nobis Christum exora.

This translation was done for our monastery by Dr. Rudolph Masciantonio, president of the Philadelphia Latin Liturgy Association:

Hail, queen of heaven, hail lady of the angels. Hail, root, hail the door through which the Light of the world is risen. Rejoice, glorious Virgin, beautiful above all. Hail, O very fair one, and plead for us to Christ.

Regina Caeli

Regina Caeli is perhaps the second-most familiar of the four texts, having been set to music by so many composers over the centuries, and frequently heard at Easter Vigil Mass. It is sung from Easter Vigil through Pentecost Sunday.

The text first appeared about the year 1200, and is often credited to Pope Gregory V (+998); the chant melody probably dates from the 14th century.

Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia; quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia; resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia; ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

(A note on the Latin: caeli is sometimes spelled coeli. The oe vowel format was integrated into Latin from the Greek, and the more accepted spelling today of this word for heaven is the fully Latinized ae version.)

This translation is by the Reverend Adrian Fortescue, 1913:

Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia; for He whom thou was chosen to bear, alleluia; has risen as He said, alleluia; pray for us to God, alleluia.

It is certainly indicative of the Easter season, this hymn, filled with alleluias after a Lent where no alleluia is sung.

Another form of this text is in Regina Caeli Jubilo, dating from the 17th century. Its English form survives in the hymn “Be Joyful Mary” (melody by Johann Leisentritt (1527-1586).

Salve Regina

The Salve Regina has also been credited to Herimann the Lame (Hermanus Contractus), monk of Reichenau, but it is also attributed to Adhemar de Monteil (+1098) and Saint Bernard (+1153). It has become a traditional Carmelite hymn, sung at Carmelite events throughout the world. It is sung as a seasonal anthem from the day after Pentecost Sunday until the first Sunday of Advent. As a spoken prayer, it has also been added to the conclusion of the rosary, so it is perhaps the most familiar of these four texts to Catholics.

Salve Regina, mater misericordiae, vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra salve. Ad te clamamus, exules filii Evae. Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes, in hac lacrimarum valle. Eia ergo, advocate nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos, ad nos converte. Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende. O Clemens, o pia, o dulcis virgo Maria.

This early translation is by the Reverend Adrian Fortescue, 1913:

Hail holy queen, mother of mercy, hail our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us. And after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, o loving, o sweet Virgin Mary.

While parishes may not include the seasonal anthem each Sunday, it is to be recommended that the Regina Caeli be sung at Easter, and the Alma Redemptoris at Christmas Mass, and that the anthems be sung by choir and congregation sometime during the seasons.

The simple chant melodies of these anthems may all be found in the Adoremus Hymnal.


Lucy E. Carroll

Lucy Carroll, organist and choir director at the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia, teaches at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton. She frequently contributes essays on Catholic music to AB, and is the creator of the “Churchmouse Squeaks” cartoons regularly featured in these pages. In Memoriam: Dr. Lucy E. Carroll, DMA