Stephanie A. Mann is the author of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, available from Scepter Publishers. She resides in Wichita, Kansas and blogs at www.supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.com.
From Pentecost to the First Sunday of Advent, the Salve Regina is the Marian antiphon for Night Prayer (Compline). As an Anglican, Blessed John Henry Newman translated the antiphon in his Tract 75 of the Tracts of the Times, analyzing the Hours of the Roman Breviary:
Hail, O Queen, the mother of mercy, our life, sweetness, and hope, hail. To Thee we exiles cry out, the sons of Eve. To Thee we sigh, groaning and weeping in this valley of tears. Come then, O our Patroness, turn thou on us those merciful eyes of thine, and show to us, after this exile, Jesus the blessed fruit of thy womb. O gracious, O pitiful, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Salve Regina, mater misericordiæ, vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve. Ad te clamamus exules, filii Hevæ. Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lachrymarum valle. Eja ergo advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte, et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exilium ostende. O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.
This is one of the four Marian antiphons the Church uses throughout the liturgical year. The Alma Redemptoris Mater is chanted from the First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent through the Feast of the Purification on February 2. The Ave, Regina Caelorum/Hail, O Queen of Heaven is the antiphon from the Purification until the Wednesday of Holy Week. Since Easter Sunday, the Church has been singing the Regina Caeli/Queen of Heaven with its repeated Alleluias. As we enter the long season of Ordinary Time, we sing and pray this most familiar of the four Marian antiphons. It is so familiar because we usually pray it at the end of the Rosary and because it is the basis of a popular Marian hymn.
Authorship, Translations, and Prayers
Like the Alma Redemptoris Mater and the Ave, Regina Caelorum, the words of this antiphon are sometimes attributed to Hermannus Contractus (Blessed Herman "the Cripple"), an historian, monk, mathematician, and poet from southwestern Germany who was born in 1013 and died near Lake Constance in 1054.
Father Edward Caswall translated it for his Lyra Catholica: Containing All the Hymns of the Roman Breviary and Missal, with Others from Various Sources, first published in 1849:
Mother of mercy, hail, O gentle Queen!
Our life, our sweetness, and our hope, all hail!
Children of Eve,
To thee we cry from our sad banishment;
To thee we send our sign,
Weeping and mourning in this tearful vale.
Come, then, our Advocate;
Oh, turn on us those pitying eyes of thine;
And our long exile past,
Show us at last
Jesus, of thy pure womb the fruit divine.
O Virgin Mary, mother blest!
O sweetest, gentlest, holiest!
When the antiphon is recited, this verse, response and prayer are added:
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray. Almighty and everlasting God, Who by the working of the Holy Spirit didst prepare both body and soul of the glorious Virgin Mother, Mary, that she might deserve to be made a worthy dwelling for Thy Son, grant that we who rejoice in her memory, may, by her loving intercession, be delivered from present evils and from lasting death, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
This prayer is often recited at the end of the Rosary with the same verse and response and the following prayer:
O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life. Grant, we beseech Thee, that by meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Salve Regina is also part of the Leonine Prayers, recited after Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite as directed by Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI, preceded by three Hail Marys, with the same verse and response and the following prayer:
O God, our refuge and our strength, look down with mercy upon the people who cry to Thee; and by the intercession of the glorious and immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, of Saint Joseph her spouse, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the saints, in Thy mercy and goodness hear our prayers for the conversion of sinners, and for the liberty and exaltation of the Holy Mother the Church. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.
The Leonine Prayers conclude with the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel and a brief litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
From Chant to Opera
Like the other Marian antiphons, the Salve Regina has been part of the Church’s liturgical and musical repertory for centuries. There are settings in the Simple Tone and the Solemn Tone of Gregorian chant. Antonio Vivaldi, the famous “Red Priest” of Venice, wrote a six movement work for alto and continuo orchestra, including flutes and oboes. Giovanni Pergolesi composed a setting as expressive and moving as his famous Stabat Mater.
The German Romantic composer Franz Schubert wrote several settings of the antiphon, including one for male quartet or chorus.
The Salve Regina is also featured in the great French opera Les Dialogues of the Carmelites (The Dialogues of the Carmelites) by Francois Poulenc, based upon a novel by Georges Bernanos, which was based upon a novella by Getrud von Fort (The Song at the Scaffold) telling the story of the Blessed Carmelite martyrs of the French Revolution. In perhaps the most moving conclusion of any opera, the Carmelites sing the Salve Regina as one-by-one they mount the scaffold to the guillotine and their voices are silenced by its slicing blade even as the melody climbs to its grand crescendo.
As the last Carmelite, Sister Constance, sings O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria, Sister Blanche de la Force, who had left the others because she feared martyrdom, comes forward. As she walks to the scaffold Blanche sings the last verse of the Veni, Creator Spiritus:
Deo Patri sit gloria,
et Filio, qui a mortuis
surrexit, ac Paraclito,
in saeculorum saecula.
(All glory to the Father be/with his coequal Son;/The same to thee, great Paraclete/While endless ages run.)
The audience must say “Amen”.
The Roman Hymnal
In 1884, The Roman Hymnal: A Complete Manual of English Hymns & Latin Chants For the Use of Congregations, Schools, Colleges and Choirs, was published in New York and Cincinnati by Friedrich Pustet & Company. The hymnal was compiled and arranged by the Reverend J.B. Young, SJ, the choir master of St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City. One of the English hymns is “Hail Holy Queen, Enthroned Above”, with the chorus:
Triumph all ye cherubim,
Sing with us, ye seraphim,
Heaven and earth resound the hymn,
Salve, salve, salve, Regina!
This hymn is one of the most familiar traditional Marian hymns in our Catholic repertoire and we don’t even know who wrote it — as a translation of the Salve Regina.
Hail Mother of mercy and of love, O Maria!