The Four Seasonal Marian Antiphons.
Many of you will have heard of the short Marian hymn Salve Regina which is often sung at the end of Mass and Holy Communion or Vespers/Evensong in the Catholic tradition, either in the Roman Catholic Church or in the Anglican Church. Nowadays, it is almost used universally throughout the year, but that is not how it was intended. To this day, this piece of music is part of a set of four season Marian hymns used especially in religious foundations but also by secular priests and canons, especially in priories and cathedrals. Visitors to Rome may have heard them during their visits to St. Peter's Basilica, especially after Sunday vespers or in some of their churches throughout the world.
The four great season Marian antiphones come originally from the Daily Office of Compline, the last of the sung hours of the day. They are dedicated to Mary and are usually sung at the close of the office or of the Mass, like the Angelus. They are the: Alma Redemptoris Mater, Ave Regina Cœlorum, Regina Cæli and the Salve Regina. Each of these beautiful anthems is set to a lovely chant, but throughout history they have also been set to wonderful tunes by many composers, most notably, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, during the late Renaissaince.
The Alma Redemptoris Mater is sung on the first Sunday of Advent to the Feast of Candlemass on February 2nd, the traditional end of Christmas. This anthem tells of the Archangel Gabriel bringing the good news of Christ's birth to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The text is credited to Herimann the Lame, a monk at Reichenau in the 11th century.
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.
The Ave Regina Cælorum is sung from Candlemass through Easter Vigil and it tells of the glory and radiance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a mean through which the light of Christ shines through the world. The text appears for the first time in the 12th century, although it is also sometimes attributed 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.
The Regina Cæli is perhaps one of the most familiar hymns in the Catholic tradition, having been set to beautiful music by so many composers. It is sung from Easter Vigil through Whisunday when the Church celebrates the Pentecost. The text tells of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven and it is filled with Resurrection joy, and the shouts of Alleluia make their Easter appearance. Its text and melody appeared around the 12th century and it is often credited to Pope Gregory V, who was Bishop of Rome in the 10th century.
Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia; quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia; resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia; ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
Finally, probably the most renowned one is the Salve Regina which is also attributed to Herimann the Lame, but claims that it was composed by Saint Bernard are also equally common. It has become traditionally one of the most famous hymns of Catholicism. It is sung from Whitsunday to the First Sunday of Advent. Its texts speaks of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven as our helper amidst our sins, with her most precious fruit being our Savior Jesus Christ.
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.
While the latter is the most famous, it is incorrect to use it throughout the year. If your churchmanship is of a Catholic taste, do include these beautiful hymns in your Daily Office pattern at the end of Evening Prayer - the beauty of these anthems is how they reflect the variety of the liturgical year, from the mystery of the Incarnation, through the pains of Lent, through the joys of Easter, and the familiarity of ordinary time. Hail Mary, Full of Grace!