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Regina Caeli

posted May 14, 2017, 11:36 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated May 14, 2017, 11:36 AM ]
The Regina Caeli is one of four seasonal Marian antiphons, sung after night prayer. It is said throughout Eastertide, (from Easter Day through Pentecost) and is also said in place of the Angelus during this time.

While its authorship is unknown, Franciscans have been chanting it since at least the 12
th century. An ancient legend has it that in the spring of 596 a pestilence was ravaging Rome. So Easter morning St. Gregory the Great led a procession to pray that it stop. Holding in his hand the icon of our Lady said to have been painted by St. Luke, he suddenly heard voices from above chanting the first three lines. Enraptured with the angelic singing, the astonished Pope replied in a loud voice: “Ora pro nobis Deum. Alleluia!” At that moment an angel appeared in a glorious light, sheathed the sword of pestilence in its scabbard, and from that day the pestilence ceased.

O Queen of heaven, be joyful, alleluia, 
For he whom you have humbly borne for us, alleluia, 
Has arisen, as he promised, alleluia, 
Offer now our prayer to God, alleluia. 

The version we sing is known as “simple plainsong”, meaning it’s a unison, unaccompanied melodic line in a free rhythm. There’s also an “ornate” form of the chant, and by the 16
th century many composers were setting this text for choirs. Jean-Baptiste Lully, who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France, set it as a motet in 1684. A young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed three settings of it between 1771 and 1779 for use at the Salzburg Cathedral. In the early 1860’s, Johannes Brahms composed a version for the women’s chorus in Hamburg.