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Four Marian Chants Every Catholic Should Know

Little things we do every day can transform our lives. Over time, these little things become habits. Good habits change us for the better; bad habits, for the worse. In past articles, I’ve encouraged daily mental prayer, the Rosary, and other prayer habits that can be practiced throughout the day.

Today, I’ll continue this theme by proposing a “little thing” that we all can do nightly. It only takes a minute–sometimes less. And let me be even bolder: in these times, when so many Catholics have forgotten–or never learned–our traditions and devotions, this is a practice that every single Catholic should do nightly.

Every night, before bed, Catholics should sing the seasonal Marian antiphon.

What are the Seasonal Marian Antiphons

The seasonal Marian antiphons are four beautiful and ancient prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are sung nightly following Compline. (Compline is Night Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s obligatory for priests–and recommended for the rest of us.)

The Marian antiphons are “seasonal” because they shift according to the liturgical seasons of the year. From Advent through Candlemas (Feb. 2), Alma Redemptoris Mater is sung. From the day after Candlemas (Feb. 3) through the end of Lent, Ave Regina Coelorum. From Easter through Pentecost, Regina Coeli. After Pentecost (Ordinary Time), Salve Regina.

I expect that many Catholics remain familiar with the text of at least two of these antiphons: the Salve Regina is the “Hail Holy Queen” that we recite at the end of the Rosary; and the Regina Coeli replaces the Angelus during the Easter Season. Sadly, the Gregorian chants for even these familiar texts are seldom known; and outside of Extraordinary Form parishes, it’s unusual to ever hear these chants.

For each of the four Marian antiphons there is a simple tone Gregorian melody that accompanies the Latin text. (Each antiphon also has a more complex Gregorian melody called the solemn tone. Religious orders may also have their own chant melodies.) It is these simple tone Marian antiphons that I propose every Catholic should know and sing nightly. Here’s the current Marian Antiphon, Salve Regina. YouTube videos for all four simple tone chants are embedded below.

Why We Should Sing the Seasonal Marian Antiphons

We should sing them, of course, because they are beautiful prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I am promoting these antiphons now as one small step toward the restoration of Catholic culture. Catholics need distinctive and shared practices to bind us together as Catholics. Prayers in Latin achieve this in a particular way because they allow Catholics from around the world to pray together; they also unite us with Catholics from ages past. Chanting prayers in Latin goes farther by uniting Catholics in both word and song, thereby giving us a shared musical heritage and a foundation for our culture. Therefore (although it is routinely ignored), it is unsurprising that Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy described Gregorian chant as a “treasure of inestimable value” that is to be given the “first place” in our liturgies.

The four seasonal Marian antiphons are ideal Gregorian chants for all Catholics to learn. The melodies are simple; the texts are short; they don’t take long to sing; they can be learned one at a time as each new liturgical season commences; and both children and adults can easily learn to sing them by heart, i.e., without hymnals, music, or accompaniment. And let me stress the importance of learning these chants by heart. The chants should reside within you, where they will become part of you–and not just part of you personally, but also part of your family members, friends, and fellow parishioners. Not only does this give you something in common with all of these people, which is itself beneficial, it also allows for the singing of these chants at any time or place: in our homes, churches, and schools; in processions through our parish neighborhoods; and even abroad as we travel.

And singing the Marian antiphons is something concrete that we can begin immediately in our own homes. It requires no gradual or elaborate implementation. You can start tonight. Once you and your family have mastered these chants, you can begin sharing them with others.

When We Should Sing the Seasonal Marian Antiphons

In short, we should sing the Marian antiphon every night before bed. I recommend singing the Marian antiphon at the conclusion of Compline (Night Prayer), which is the traditional practice.

If you have younger kids, you can easily add the Marian antiphon to the end of your bedtime prayer ritual. In my home, we’ve been singing the seasonal Marian antiphons as part of our bedtime routine for years. My oldest is almost eight, so I expect he’s now heard–and sung–each of the four antiphons hundreds of times; but even my two-year-old joins in the parts he knows. And unlike me, my kids will never remember a time when they did not know the Marian antiphons. This is as it should be.

Singing the Marian antiphons with your kids is also an excellent way of living the liturgical year in your home. Your kids will notice the seasonal shifts that occur, such as the recent shift from Easter’s Regina Coeli to the after-Pentecost Salve Regina. Over time, you’ll begin to internalize these shifts and even to long for the next liturgical season and its antiphon.

Learning the Four Seasonal Marian Antiphons

Learning the Marian antiphons is easy. It just requires a little repetition; and since you’ll be singing them every night, that’s not a problem.

Embedded below are four YouTube videos I created, one for each of the Marian antiphons and beginning with the current seasonal Marian antiphon, Salve Regina. Play the seasonal Marian antiphon every night and sing along as able. In the resources below, I’ve also included links to the chant notation so you can print the music out to aid you while you’re learning.

Although Gregorian chant notation looks strange to those accustomed to modern notation, you don’t need to be an expert. And these are some of the simplest chants. The videos demonstrate when to pause and where to lengthen notes, and will help you find the right pitches. And many of the notes simply go up or down one note in the scale, so you should catch on quickly. If you’re unfamiliar with Latin, the recordings will also assist you in pronunciation. If the pitch of the recordings is too high or too low for your voice, fear not: chant can be sung wherever it’s most comfortable for you, so simply adjust your starting pitch up or down as needed.

When it’s time to shift to the next antiphon, which will not occur until Advent with the Alma Redemptoris Mater, return here and learn the new chant. After you’ve learned all four, it will be time to repeat the cycle. If you haven’t memorized all four chants by then, you’ll likely do so once you repeat the full cycle.

And don’t forget, begin tonight!

Chant Recordings and Additional Resources

The following links are to the simple tone chant notation for each of the Marian antiphons as found on the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest’s fine sacred music webpage.

You can also find all of the antiphons, including English translations and accompanying prayers, beginning on page 211 of the excellent Parish Book of Chant (2nd edition). A print edition of the book can be ordered from Amazon here. There’s also this booklet designed for singing Extraordinary Form Compline which includes all the seasonal Marian antiphons in both simple and solemn tone, also with English translations.

Below are the texts for each of the seasonal Marian antiphons with an English translation.

Salve Regina

Salve, Regina, mater misericordiae;
vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae.
Ad te suspiramus gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia ergo, advocata nostra,
illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte.
Et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo Maria.

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

Alma Redemptoris Mater

Alma Redemptoris Mater, quae pervia coeli
Porta manes, et stella maris, sucurre 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.

O loving Mother of our Redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea,
Hasten to aid thy fallen people who strive to rise once more.
Thou who brought forth thy holy Creator, all creation wond’ring,
Yet remainest ever Virgin, taking from Gabriel’s lips
that joyful “Hail!”: be merciful to us sinners.

Ave Regina Coelorum
Ave, Regina coelorum,
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.

Welcome, O Queen of Heaven.
Welcome, O Lady of Angels
Hail! thou root, hail! thou gate
From whom unto the world, a light has arisen:

Rejoice, O glorious Virgin,
Lovely beyond all others,
Farewell, most beautiful maiden,
And pray for us to Christ.

Regina Coeli

Regina coeli, laetare, alleluia.
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia.
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia.
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as he said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

This post originally appeared on the Sacred Art Series Blog. First published here on May 27, 2016.

29 thoughts on “Four Marian Chants Every Catholic Should Know”

  1. We’ve been singing these four seasonal antiphons in our family for as long as we’ve had children, which is to say, the past 16 years. Not only do the kids remember them all without difficulty (now that we’ve been through so many liturgical cycles), but they can’t imagine going to sleep without having sung them.

    This was, by the way, the first evidence I had that Gregorian chant was not elitist and too difficult: when the little kids who could barely string together a grammatical sentence were already belting out Marian antiphons.

  2. This is a great article Will! We try to sing the seasonal antiphon with grace at dinner in our family. It’s amazing to see the even the little ones belting it out – I think our little ones from China had caught on to the cadence/words of the Salve Regina before they had even started speaking English.

    On a related note, we have a couple of Sonos speakers in the house and there is a great python library for connecting to and controlling them. I wrote a script that runs at 12pm and 6pm and just plays an mp3 of a church bell ringing to gather the family together for the Angelus. It’s been a wonderful way to stop and remember to pray during the day.

  3. I really enjoyed this article. Of the three versions of the Salve Regina I am aware of, my personal favorite is the Cistercian. For those interested, below is a close approximation of the notes (I had to transcribe them, so a few episema are missing) as well as an older recording. This version has become somewhat neglected, so it would be nice to have a new generation take it up. Besides, it’s simply wonderful:

  4. What a wonderful thing you have done here. Oh how I wish I could go back and delve into Latin and know it better. These are beautiful treasures, and if I had little ones I would be teaching these.
    When children are small, or even pre-adolescent, they often have little appreciation for traditions the family has, but when they are around 18 or so, suddenly they find comfort in them, and then real appreciation. When they are older the things they rolled their eyes at become precious memories to them. I wish I had known that would happen when my child was small, I would have incorporated much stronger Catholic traditions in our home. Thanks again for this.

  5. Perhaps these antiphons(other than the “Salve Regina”)can be used to Terminate the Reciatation of Our Lady’s Most Holy Rosary.

  6. Thank you! How beautiful is this? I listen to Kyrie Eleison, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei while praying the Rosary. Next step is to learn the Rosary in Latin. These little songs to Our Lady will help me I’m sure!

  7. They are actually sung AFTER VESPERS for the Benedictines and Rome;For the Dominicans after Compline there is only the Salve Regina, in solemn tone as also for Cisterceans the solemn tone after compline; for the Carthusians after vespers but with their own text and chant solemn tone varying slightly from the others. I believe the Conventual Franciscans after the community Mass in the simple tone.

  8. Thank you Mr. Bloomfield, this is very helpful to a former Michigander who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s decimated vineyard that was the Detroit Archdiocese. I have slowly starting learning the things, first picking up the TLM about age 32 and never looking back. I won’t make excuses but what would be really helpful is if I lived right near the FSSP chapel and didn’t have to drive a hour each way. The lack of a local Church with evening vespers and everything else is a hindrance to making big strides in the faith.

    • Move to the Coeur d’Alene Idaho area Mr. Matthews. St. Joan of Arc FSSP will be glad to have you and your family. We have a very good schola!

        • I first visited about two years ago. Decided right away I needed to be here. Started looking for work. In September of last year, found a job and moved. There is nothing like being part of a tight knit “old school” Catholic parish. If you at all have a skill that permits relocation, give this area a close look. This applies to anyone reading my comment.

          • That’s awesome, I do have skills but none are required, only God’s providence. I have picked up and moved cross country at least 7 times, most times with no job. My current place I chose because St Jude is the patron of the diocese. Googled it, found that out and off I went. The funny thing I have protestant and Catholic friends from work, they were in between jobs so they contacted me to see if I knew of openings. I told them about God providing for the birds (Matthew 6:26) and are they not greater than a bird? I never heard from them again :). This is not the advice they apparently want to hear but even though they never contacted me again it makes me smile, I told them the right thing but I guess they wanted facebook, iphones, ball games, anything but religion.

  9. In the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, there are Festal and seasonal Megalynaria for Our Lady. The Megalynarion is a hymn sing after the Consecration in the Liturgy and is always taken from the Ninth Ode of Matins. This is used during the year:

    More honorable than the cherubim and by far more glorious than the Seraphim; ever a virgin, you gave birth to God the Word; you, truly the Mother of God, we magnify.

    When the Liturgy of St. Basil is offered (Jan. 1, the 5 Sundays of the Great Fast and a few other times during the year):

    All creation praises you, for you are full of grace. The Angelic choirs and all the races of men sing of you, the glorious temple of the Lord, the mystical paradise and the glory of all virgins, from whom the eternal God was born a child. Your body became a throne and your womb was more spacious than Heaven. All creation praises you, for you are full of grace. Glory to you!

    During the Paschal season:

    Shine, shine O new Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Exult now and be glad, O Sion. And you, O chaste Mother of God, take delight in the Resurrection of your Son.

    Ascension Thursday to the vigil of Pentecost Sunday:

    Virginity is alien to mothers, and childbearing is foreign to virgins, yet in you, O Mother of God, both of them came together. Therefore we and all the nations of the earth without ceasing magnify you.

    There are different ones for the major Holy Days:. Sts. Peter & Paul, the Transfiguration, the Dormition, the Nativity of the Mother of God, Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple, Nativity of Our Lord, Synaxis of the Mother of God, Theophany, Presentation of Our Lord, Annunciation.

    I try to pray them during my morning prayers. They are so rich with the dogma of the Divine Maternity of Our Lady.

  10. With Latin being a “dead language” and English being the International language, what real difference does it make today, if we pray ( or sing ) in a modern language to the Blessed Mother? Surely those from ages past will now and know the purity of our intentions as we pray/sing those 4 Marian chants. As an attendee for several years in a Catholic parochial school, any learning of Latin and / or singing ANYTHING in Gregorian ways was hated quite a bit. Fine and ok who liked it and could learn “how to” sing it, but not well liked or appreciated by many who couldn’t.
    THINK of why the Faith has so many different prayers, novenas, eh ? Maybe because “one size” does not fit all .


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