The Marian Antiphons
The Marian antiphons are:
- Alma Redemptoris Mater, “Kindly Mother of the Redeemer” (Advent through February 2) click on Tomás Luis de Victoria
- Ave Regina Cælorum,“Hail, Queen of Heaven” (Presentation of the Lord through Good Friday) click on Marc-Antoine Charpentier
- Regina Cæli, “Queen of Heaven, Rejoice” (Easter season) click on Palestrina
- Salve Regina, “Hail, Holy Queen” (from first Vespers of Trinity Sunday until None of the Saturday before Advent)
These four antiphons are sung during the eight Canonical Hours, or Divine Office. They may precede or end a psalm. The Salve Regina is sung at Compline and is the best-known of antiphons. Antiphons have been associated with Benedictine monasticism. They are in the Catholic Gregorian Chant repertory which is perhaps rooted in part in Iberian Mozarabic Chant and also originates in Judaism. There are 150 psalms. Many psalters are illuminated manuscripts. The Marian Antiphons were written in Latin, but Wikipedia entries provide an English translation.
Britannica describes antiphons as “Roman Catholic liturgical music, chant melody and text sung before and after a psalm verse. These were sung originally by alternating choirs (antiphonal singing). The antiphonal singing of psalms was adopted from Hebrew worship by the early Christian churches, notably that of Syria.” But Marian antiphons are not “true antiphons.”
In its description of antiphons, Britannica adds that “[t]he four Marian antiphons are long hymns, not true antiphons but independent compositions especially noted for their beauty.” The four Marian antiphonies may have changed as polyphony developed. Moreover it is not uncommon for composers to set a known text to music. In an earlier post, I noted that Michel-Richard de Lalande wrote a Regina Cæli. Several composers have written a Regina Cæli and several, a Salve Regina. Many of these liturgical texts have numerous settings. Mozart’s Requiem is a mass.
It may therefore be prudent to describe Marian antiphons as content rather than form. But they are in the Catholic Gregorian Chant repertory which may be rooted in Iberian Mozarabic chant. Marian antiphons, however, are not psalmody. It should be noted as well that Marian hymnology includes antiphons that differ from the four Marian antiphons. For instance, the antiphon Ave Maris Stella (click on Ave Maris Stella) is the Acadians‘ national anthem. Acadians are the French-speaking inhabitants of Canada’s Atlantic provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Hermann of Reichenau
Scholars disagree, but the Salve Regina and the Alma Redemptoris Mater, a prayer, but also a Marian antiphon, are attributed to Hermann von Reichenau  (18 July 1013 – 24 September 1054), also called Hermannus Contractus or Hermannus Augiensis or Herman the Cripple, a crippled son of the Count of Altshausen. Hermann was taken to a Benedictine abbey, where he was schooled, at the age of seven. He later entered the Benedictine order. He was a composer, a music theorist, mathematician, and astronomer. He was beatified (cultus confirmed) in 1863. (See Hermann of Reichenau, Wikipedia.) The Salve Regina is one of the Leonine Prayers.
Although the dates do not coincide precisely, there are four Marian antiphons just as there are four seasons. However, although Christian feasts are celebrated on or near solstices and equinoctial points, they also occur at other moments of the year. Christmas is celebrated near the longest night of the year, the winter solstice, and the summer solstice coincides with St John’s Day, or Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, Quebec’s national holiday, celebrated on 24 June. Easter is celebrated near the vernal equinox. It is Eastertide. As for the autumn equinox, it occurs near the mostly forgotten Michaelmas, la Saint-Michel, on 29 September.
As for liturgical seasons, there are eight : Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Pre-Lent, Lent, Easter Triduum, Eastertide. In the Catholic Church, there are eight Marian Feast Days. (See Marian Feast Days, Wikipedia).
The main Catholic Marian Feast Days are:
- January 1 Mary, the Holy Mother of God
- March 25 The Annunciation of the Lord
- May 31 The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- August 15 The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- September 8 The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- December 8 The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- March 25 Annunciation of the Theotokos (Mother of God)
- August 15 Dormition of the Mother of God
- September 8 Nativity of the Theotokos
- November 21 The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple
A complete discussion of Marian hymns would demand a closer examination of several Christian denominations: Armenian, etc. But for most Christians, the next Marian feast day is the Assumption of Mary, called the Dormition of Mary in the Eastern Church. It is celebrated on the 15th of August.
I will conclude by quoting, once more, Britannica’s entry on antiphons: “The antiphonal singing of psalms was adopted from Hebrew worship by the early Christian churches, notably that of Syria.” Moreover, Mary is venerated in Islam. (See Mary in Islam, Wikipedia.) This quotation points to the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
- Arabization & Islamization (22 June 2017)
- Feasts & Liturgy (29 December 2016)
- Saint Nicholas, Sinterklass, Santa Claus (25 December 2016)
- Candlemas: its Stories & its Songs, updated (2 February 2015)
- Caccini’s “Ave Maria” (25 December 2015)
- The Marian Antiphonies (5 April 2015)
- Musings on the Origins of Christmas (22 December 2014)
- Epiphany: Balthasar, Melchior & Gaspar (6 January 2013)
- A Christmas Offering (cont’d): Hymns to Mary (26 December 2012)
- Components of the Mass as a Musical Form (19 December 2012)
- The Four Seasons: from Darkness into Light.2 (6 December 2012)
- From the Magnificat to the Stabat Mater (6 April 2012)
- Raphael and Marian Liturgy at NDP (4 April 2012)
- Fra Angelico & the Annunciation (3 April 2012)
- On Calendars & Feast Days (2 April 2012)
- Nunc Dimittis, Simeon’s Song of Praise (2 February 2012)
- A Christmas Offering: Hymns to Mary (25 December 2011)
- The Blessed Virgin: Mariology (24 December 2011)
- A Portrait of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (20 December 2011)
- Canonical Hours and the Divine Office (19 November 2011)
- The Blessed Virgin: Mariology (24 December 2011)
- Liturgy as a Musical Form (15 December 2011)
Love to everyone ♥
I’m using Arvo Pärt‘s Salve Regina, with footage taken from Sátántangó (1994) for the second time. However, Wikipedia’s entry on Herman of Reichenau includes a fine interpretation of the Salve Regina by Les Petits Chanteurs de Passy. It is delightful.
© Micheline Walker
3 August 2017