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, 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, 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.
William R. Bloomfield is an attorney in Lansing, Michigan where he lives with his wife and five children. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville and the Ave Maria School of Law; he is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy JAG Corps. Most recently, he is the publisher of the Sacred Art Series, available through www.SacredArtSeries.com.