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Musical Musings: Lent

Ave regina caelorum

H.T. Henry
Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas

This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.

While this article is taken from a volume written well before the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, it is still relevant from an historical perspective, allowing us to study the history of the chant Ave regina.

An antiphon so called from its first line, Ave regina caelorum (Hail, Queen of Heaven). It is one of the four Antiphons of the Blessed Virgin sung in the Divine Office in turn throughout the year, and is assigned thus from Compline of 2 February (the Feast of the Purification) to Holy Thursday exclusively. It comprises two stanzas of four lines each, followed by its own versicle and response and prayer. Its date of composition is uncertain, but the conjecture of Stella (Inst. Liturg., Rome 1895) that it antedates the fourth century seems to be without any warrant of external or internal evidence. It is found in the Saint Alban's Book of the twelfth century; in a Munich manuscript thought by Daniel to be of the thirteenth: in a Sarum Breviary of the fourteenth; and in York and Roman Breviaries of the fifteenth. Th. Bernard [Le Breviaire (Paris 1887) II 454 sqq.] says it was introduced into the Divine Office by Clement VI in the fourteenth century. He gives a commentary and thinks he can perceive in it elements of the "noble accents . . . aspirations of many Doctors, such as Saints Athanasius, Ephrem, Ildephonsus." Said during Septuagesima, Lent, Passiontide, the time, namely, of preparation for Easter, it recalls the part Mary had in the drama of the reopening of Heaven to men and shows her as reigning there Queen of Angels. Its opening line was sometimes quoted as the first line of hymns and sequences in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (cf. Dreves and Blume Analecta Hymnica, I 94, X 103, XXX 238, XXXII 43, XLVI 136) which, however, had no other relation with the antiphon, being sometimes meditations on the Ave Maria, sometimes distinct poetical compositions, for example:

Ave regina caelorum
Pia virgo tenella,
Maria (virgo), flos florum
Christi (que) clausa cella.
Gratia, quae peccatorum
Dira tulisti bella
and so on, throughout the whole of the Angelical Salutation down to ventris tui, where the poem ends (manuscript of fourteenth century) (loc. cit. XLVI 136).

Or, as a distinct hymn:

Ave regina caelorum,
Ave decus angelorum,
Ave gaudium sanctorum,
Ave solis regia,
in a manuscript of the fifteenth century (loc. cit. XL 98).

The Ave Regina has been translated by Caswall, "Lyra Catholica" (London 1849, 1873, 1884; New York 1851), whose version is used in the "Manual of Prayers" (Baltimore), 77: "Hail, O Queen of Heaven enthroned"; also by Beste, "Church Hymns" (1849): "Hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven." The version in the Marquess of Bute's "Breviary" (Edinburgh 1879, I 177) begins: "Hail, O Maria Queen of Heaven." Schlosser [Die Kirche in lhren Liedern (Freiburg 1863) I 251] gives a translation into German in the same metre. The plain-song melody in the 6th tone has also a simpler setting ["Manuale Missae et Officiorum" (Rome and Tournai 1903) 100, 103].

H.T. Henry
Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Reprinted by permission of copyright owner.

See New Advent Catholic Website

See also Ave regina in Booklet of Chant, Volume II [CNP Catalog #2002]

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