Marian Hymns

This year, the Solemnity of the Assumption falls on Sunday. Already, many people have been calling my office to ask whether or not they should sing Marian hymns. I think the concern this year is because it falls on Sunday.  I wish they’d just look at the Scripture and other Mass texts when planning a liturgy. I personally have strong reservation about singing some Marian hymns at Eucharist because they seem more devotional (or maybe I just don’t like them!). This thread could go many directions so I’ll just ask for your reflections/thoughts.

T. Johnston


  1. It’s a perfect opportunity to sing a setting of the Magnificat. There are so many good ones out there. I think Sr. Delores Dufner also has an Assumption text set to LOURDES HYMN which would work.

  2. I would hope people are past being too prissy about this.

    The pre-eminent Marian music is the Magnificat, and would qualify at Communion – if the Magnificat is Mary’s outpouring in response to the indwelling of the Lord, it’s not persuasive to say it cannot be sung at Communion…. Next would be settings of the Marian hymns and antiphons found in the Church’s liturgical books; for example, a setting of the Salve Regina as a final hymn would be fine (and the Gregorian chant of that one tends to be among the more widely known chants remaining in Catholic memory, and it’s a good enough reason to quicken its liveliness in that regard – I think one reason it’s been sustained in the living repertoire is that it’s actually rather lovely, a happy marriage of text and melody).

    I would add that, for those communities (parochial, diocesan, national) for whom the day is also a titular/patronal solemnity, texts that engage the ecclesial dimension of the celebration are also suitable but often neglected.

  3. If we sang the Proper texts of the Mass, this issue would not exist. In any case, as DM I would program one Marian hymn at the Offertory or post Communion to commemorate the solemnity and no more.

  4. The alternate Gregorian introit for the Assumption is useable (with slight alterations) for all the Marian feasts and solemnities, as well as for All Saints, St. Agatha, and, as Fr. Ruff recently mentioned, for the Benedictines’ celebration of St. Benedict.

    I wonder if a parish could work up this chant, and sing it either as an introit, or as a prelude.

    This is an example of what could be done with an introit:

    Note the subtle organ accompaniment, just enough support, I think. The choirs combine for the antiphon, suggesting an opening for congregational singing.

  5. I always try to use the Magnificat as the communion hymn on the feast of the Assumption. The idea that God has “filled the hungry with good gifts” is certainly eucharistic. I also try to use Sing With All the Saints in Glory to remind us that the resurrection is a key element of the feast of the Assumption.

    I think it is important for musicians to select Marian hymns according to the theology of the feast being celebrated. For example, I don’t do Immaculate Mary on August 15. That is more appropriate for December 8. Many parishes I know have a steady diet of three or four Marian hymns that they repeat at every Marian celebration.

    Sing We Of the Blessed Mother is a hymn I’ve introduced in the parish for various Marian feasts. I think it highlights both the joys and sorrows of Mary’s role in salvation history.

    I’m also an advocate of using Marian hymns throughout the year as appropriate. Immaculate Mary fits well on the 4th Sunday of Advent. Be Joyful, Mary, and Regina Caeli are very appropriate during the Easter season when we reflect on Mary’s role as a witness to the resurrection of Jesus.

  6. Not being a musician, I’m not sure what is meant by “devotional” in reference to hymns. What does it mean, and what are some examples of devotional Marian hymns?

    (I happen to like “Sing of Mary” since it starts with Mary but then quickly redirects attention to her Son, and ends with a Trinitarian doxology which returns to a Marian theme.

    1. For me, the difference is between those hymns about Mary – like the one you cite – and those addressed directly to her like “Hail Queen of heaven”. The latter feel inappropriate during Mass and were, generally, written for use at May devotions.

      However, we’ll be ending our Assumption Mass with our parish anthem, “Mary Immaculate, star of the morning” but we’ll be moving, physically, from the pews to our Marian shrine, something we always do at the end of Evening Prayer.

  7. Sing of Mary is doctrinally good. I’d imagine what was meant by “devotional” are the more sweet hymns without much theological content. Worship III has a strong selection of good Marian hymns.

  8. Before the Council of Trent, many motets were “devotional” in nature. IOW they were essentially praise songs that did not necessarily touch upon doctrinal issues. In an effort to relate these para-liturgical compositions (there is a parallel in modern hymnody), composers began assigning motets in their prints to certain feasts. The motet assigned to the Assumption, for example, might set the “Assumpta est Maria in caelo” antiphon. In modern parlance, however, a devotional hymn is one addressed or referring to a particular saint.

  9. We could also have a Marian hymn (I’m assuming that means a hymn to Mary) for the recessional. The liturgy ends with the response after the Ite missa est, so there shouldn’t be any problem doing that.

    Hymns in praise of God’s goodness to the Blessed Virgin could be appropriate at other opportunities,

  10. I think it’s safe to say that since the Communion Antiphon for Assumption is the Magnificat, it is OK to use a setting of the Magnificat for communion!

    Devotional hymns are generally meant as those which were intended for “Devotions” such as Rosary, Novenas and May Crownings. Songs such as “Mother at Thy Feet is Kneeling”, “Bring Flowers to the Fairest”, “Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest”, “On This Day O Beautiful Mother”… all non-scriptural (and more than a little syrupy) devotional texts that were intended for use outside of Mass. They are wholly appropriate for that use. On the other hand, their use at Mass, even a “Marian” liturgy such as Assumption, seems innapropriate to me. There are plenty of good selections to turn to…. The Magnificat being the outstanding choice.

    Even as much of an advocate of traditional music and chant as I am, it’s disingenuous to turn to selections such as Ave Maria Stella, Salve Regina and the such…they are no more intended for use at Mass than are the above named “syrupy” devotional hymns.

  11. Other good Magnificat settings include:
    Timothy Dudley-Smith’s “Tell out, my soul”, to the tune Woodlands, which makes an excellent thanksgiving or recessional hymn;
    Owen Alstott’s “My soul rejoices”, with its joyful refrain and pealing-bell verses;
    the setting “My soul rejoices in God” from the Psallite collection, which is a bit more restrained and would therefore be usable during Communion;
    and Peter Jones’s remarkable Magnificat setting with its quiet ostinato refrain “The Almighty works marvels for me. Holy his name, holy his name” and superimposed solo verses for a cantor, which never fails to promote meditative prayer.

    1. Btw, Ted Marier set “Tell Out My Soul” to the tune of Song 22 by Orlando Gibbons; a lovely marriage of text and tune. Marier’s own antiphonal setting of the Magnificat in English is very fine, and the paraphrased hymn text, “O Be Glad My Soul Rejoice,” is beautifully paired with Bach harmonization of Freu Dich Sehr.

      1. In my St. Paul’s days I’d sometimes hear a hymn from my youth, “Thou Art the Star of Morning” to the French carol tune “Je Sais Vierge Marie”. It think we may have had the Pius X hymnal back then, another of TM’s works. With the “thous” and the Latin in the refrain – “Hail heaven’s queen, O lux caelestia! …” – it probably doesn’t pass muster in many parishes any more.

      2. RPB, that hymn is still sung at St Paul’s on Advent 4 in certain cycles. It’s very lovely. It’s also in Cantus Populi, the hymnal that Ted gathered and edited just before the Council (a couple of months ago, a family member gifted me with an SATB edition in good condition), which was designed to foster congregational singing.

  12. With a nod to what the propers model, this Anglo-Catholic likes to program the same pattern on Marian Feasts: Some setting of Psalm 98 (metrical or responsorial) at the Entrance Procession; a Marian anthem for the choir or Marian Hymn at the Offertory (it’s “traditional” place); the Magnificat or Psalm 34 at the Communion Procession; and a procession worthy Marian Hymn — “Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above” is my favorite for August 15 — at the Retiring Procession.

  13. If you are going to use hymns, a Marian Hymn would be the most appropriate choice in ANY of the “slots” either on the Vigil or the day itself.
    Even a song addressed to her, (Mary,) is in keeping with the spirit of what the Church intends for Her (the Church’s,) liturgies.

    Proper Entrance Antiphons: All honor to you, Mary! Today you were raised above the choirs of angels to lasting glory with Christ.

    A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of 12 stars on her head.

    Proper Offertory Texts: Blessed are you, Virgin Mary, who bore the Lord, the Creator of the world: you brought forth the One who made you, and you remained a Virgin forever.

    Mary has been taken up to heaven; the angels rejoice. They bless the Lord and sing his praises.

    By you the gates of paradise have been opened to us; today you triumph gloriously with the angels.

    Proper Communions: All generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.

    Blessed is the womb of the Virgin Mary; she carried the Son of the eternal Father.

  14. But wait, correct me if I am wrong here, doesn’t Sunday override the feast? Commemorating the feast with one hymn seems appropriate.

    1. Solemnities of Our Lady trump Sundays of Ordinary Time in the table of precedence for the universal calendar. So the propers for the Divine Office and Mass are those of the solemnity.

  15. Re: #15, Karl, I would greatly appreciate knowing whether the interesting psalm tone settings in the SATB “Cantus Populi” (e.g. #25.26,27) are similar to Prof. Marier’s oft-praised later versions… it is mostly a question of whether to keep trying to find the latter. (Do the sopranos or basses ever get the melody 🙂 ?) I see the SSA “Cantus Populi” parts are quite different, so he must have enjoyed taking great care in writing these.

    1. John,

      Well, CP No 25 is listed as Tone 4a, which is not used in Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Canticles. But the Tone 5 and Tone 8G used in CP are the same as in HP&SC. As for your question of placement of the tone in the fauxbourdon, I can’t recall an instance where the sopranos keep the tone (and I just scanned my copy, not doing a page-by-page through the 260pp+ of the psalter portion of the hymnal) – which, considering that boy trebles were the voices Dr Marier had in mind, and wasting them on melody in this context would also have made for very odd placement of the other voices – but there are a couple of instances where the basses take over the tone from the tenors (eg, Ps 95, Tone 1g, and Ps 116, Tone 1D – actually, in the latter, the tone is even placed in the altos for a while). Most of the time, it’s tenors who have the tone; most of the rest of the time, it’s altos.

      Good luck trying to find a choral/organ edition. Even at St Paul’s, they are scarce; I had to wait 3 years for a former choir member to pass on before the copy I now use was re-patriated, as it were. We tend to scope all outlets to get more back as they come onto the market. We hope for a new edition using the new texts, of course, but that is in the works with no announced schedule (hey, if the texts themselves are not really on the schedule, there’s no point in pretending to announce one ourselves, it would seem).

      Among the treats you won’t find in CP but in HP&SC are Dr Marier’s use of a tone adapted from the Graduale Simplex for psalms whose verses fit a litany form, with the congregation responding Alleluia. He does this for Pss 29, 96 & 98, for example. It’s very effective, and the idea is fetching for other purposes, IMHO.

  16. Karl, thanks for that. One rough goal is to decide with a few friends whether 4-part standard-tone harmonizations are worthwhile to sing and perhaps develop, and the CP examples (roughly one for each main psalm tone) could be inspiring. (Coupled with examples from two directors from my fortunate past.) Unison psalm tones could be best– it is just a question of exploring options. (My own humble attempts have proven inadequate. It is easy for amateurs to make settings less prayerful than the many published and web-available options.) You Bostonians have made us aware of the difficulties of making a revised HP&SC widely available, so we will have to make do for now.

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