Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ave Regina Cælorum

One delight of Lent, and from before Septuagesimatide since Candlemas, is the seasonal Marian anthem, Ave Regina cælorum, together with its ancillary versicle and collect. Here is its later, simple form:

(Hail, Queen of the Heavens!
Hail, Lady of the Angels!
Hail, Source, hail, Portal,
From whom to the world the Light hath risen!
Rejoice, Virgin glorious,
beautiful above all!
Farewell*, O truly lovely,
and for us graciously pray Christ.)

[*It appears that this anthem was first sung in the Office as an antiphon on the Feast of the Assumption, saluting Our Lady as the Virgo Assumpta, bright as the sun, fair as the dawn, passing beyond this mortal coil to live and reign forever with Christ. But it hymns her regarding her whole central role in the economy of salvation, making possible the saving Incarnation. She alone it was who has brought forth Emmanuel, God and Man, the one true Light to this darkened world. She is the branch of royal David's stem, whereon the Flower of salvation has blossomed, as Isaias sings. She is the unsealed fountain, the Garden enclosed, the royal portal through which only the chosen Prince may pass, without dishonour to her integrity, as Ezechiel in figures prophesied. She is the gate through which has passed He Who is the only Gate and Door to heaven. Therefore is she highly magnified! Truly God has cast the mighty from their seats, as when Satan was thrown down into hell after rebelling in the proud thought of his corrupted heart, and likewise He has raised up the lowly, exalting his Handmaid to Queen of all under God. May she pray for us!]

Indeed, the customary appended versicle of this fine song is close to my heart, seeing as I say it as part of my prayers upon arising (together with its elder brother, Dignare Domine die isto, sine peccato nos custodire, on which I blogged much earlier):

Dignare me laudare te, Virgo sacrata - Da mihi virtutem contra hostes tuos.

(Deign me to praise thee, sacred Virgin - Give me strength against thine enemies.)

It has always interested me to note that one prays not for strength against one's own foes, but against those of the Immaculate: for those who are foes to her are truly foes to us her children, whereas those we regard as our own enemies may not rightly be so.

The collect, too, is instructive and edifying, and rightly asks - for is it not the pure exclamation of our wise Mother the Church? - for what God our Lord desires to grant:

Concede, misericors Deus, fragilitati nostræ præsidium: ut qui sanctæ Dei Genetricis memoriam agimus, intercessionis ejus auxilio, a nostris iniquitatibus resurgamus. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. R/. Amen.

(Grant, merciful God, protection to our frailty: that we who keep the memory of the Holy Mother of God may rise again from our iniquities by the help of her intercession. Through the same Christ our Lord. R/. Amen.)

Here, from Edinburgh, is a vision of the anthem, versicle and collect being sung at the end of Mass, beginning during the reading of the Last Gospel (hence the genuflection) - here in W.A., we follow the contrary Australian custom, and listen to the Last Gospel read aloud, even at sung Mass, refraining from any music or singing:

Truly we pray aright when we invoke God the Father of mercies, praying that commemorating the all-holy, pure, spotless Theotokos, we may be raised up at her maternal, perpetual, and indeed universal intercession with the One Mediator, her Son the Lord Christ. Thus she is truly the Mediatrix of All Graces - for did God not give the world his Son, the Source of All Grace, only through her? - and how then shall we deny the much lesser truth that God, who delights to answer all prayers, would not ever grant her prayers for all, or, better, make use of her as his elect vessel and wholly-graced and inspired Handmaid (cf. Sr Luke i, 28. 38), distributing the graces of the redemption her beloved Son and His won for us, seeing as she is testified to by Scripture as blessed by all generations (St Luke i, 48), and truly so, as the Mother of Our Lord, ever holy because ever obedient, as firm in her Fiat as (excuse the comparison) the Dark One in his Non serviam? For she is ever opposed to the infernal serpent, whom by God's power triumphant in her she grinds under foot: so by her aid may we ask of God, as St Paul also interceded (and still intercedes): "Beat down Satan under our feet" (cf. Romans xvi, 20). Thus may Christ triumph in us his sinful members when by his grace we return from death to life, from sin's slavery to Christian liberty: "for freedom Christ has set us free" (Galatians iv, 31).

The Dominicans have an especially pleasant variant text and tune for this hymn to Our Lady, which on a time I have sung with them many a time.

"I'll sing a hymn to Mary, the Mother of my God..."

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