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Singing Our Lady's Praises

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Feb 10, 2014

February 11 is the Optional Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. This feast, established in 1907 by St. Pius X, re-presents the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This is such a pivotal dogma, yet many Catholics struggle to understand this definition and even the whole veneration of Mary. As a mother and teacher, it is difficult to foster devotion and teach about Mary in just one or two feast days. But looking ahead at the Liturgical Year, there is no need to worry, because all the seasons and feasts of Mary are an intertwined whole, and the feasts underline and solidify this key doctrine and other teachings on Mary. And so on this Marian day that falls between Christmas and Lent, I am contemplating our devotion to Mary in our family and how to develop and nurture it through sacred music.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy has a beautiful section on Veneration of Mary, explaining how essential devotion to Mary is for all the Faithful (emphasis mine):

Popular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is an important and universal celestial phenomenon. Its expressions are multifarious and its motivation very profound, deriving as it does from the People of God's faith in, and love for, Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, and from an awareness of the salvific mission that God entrusted to Mary of Nazareth, because of which she is mother not only of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, but also of mankind in the order of grace.

Indeed, "the faithful easily understand the vital link uniting Son and Mother. They realise that the Son is God and that she, the Mother, is also their mother. They intuit the immaculate holiness of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in venerating her as the glorious queen of Heaven, they are absolutely certain that she who is full of mercy intercedes for them. Hence, they confidently have recourse to her patronage. The poorest of the poor feel especially close to her. They know that she, like them, was poor, and greatly suffered in meekness and patience. They can identify with her suffering at the crucifixion and death of her Son, as well as rejoice with her in his resurrection. The faithful joyfully celebrate her feasts, make pilgrimage to her sanctuary, sing hymns in her honour, and make votive offerings to her. They instinctively distrust whoever does not honour her and will not tolerate those who dishonour her".

The Church exhorts all the faithful — sacred minister, religious and laity — to develop a personal and community devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through the use of approved and recommended pious exercises.

The document continues providing examples of different forms of piety throughout the year.

The key to understanding Mary is first through the Liturgy unfolded through the Liturgical Year. It is here that I can look for guidance on understanding and honoring Mary in our home. Paul VI in his most beautiful Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus from 1974 describes how the liturgy:

properly considered the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of Christ, and, in harmony with tradition, has recognized the singular place that belongs to her in Christian worship as the holy Mother of God and the worthy Associate of the Redeemer....

Th[e] Calendar is arranged in such a way as to give fitting prominence to the celebration on appropriate days of the work of salvation. It distributes throughout the year the whole mystery of Christ, from the Incarnation to the expectation of His return in glory,10 and thus makes it possible in a more organic and closely-knit fashion to include the commemoration of Christ's Mother in the annual cycle of the mysteries of her Son.

Besides the emphasis on Mary's role in the various liturgical seasons, such as Advent and Christmas, there are eighteen feast days of Our Lady (seventeen in the General Roman Calendar) which on average is 1.5 feasts a month:

FEASTS OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY IN THE GENERAL ROMAN AND USA CALENDARS:

December 8: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
December 12: (USA) Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
January 1: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
February 2: Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord (primary feast of Our Lord, secondary feast of Our Lady)
February 11: Optional Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes
March 25: Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord (primary feast of Our Lord, secondary feast of Our Lady)
May 13: Optional Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima
May 31: Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Saturday after the Second Sunday after Pentecost: Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
July 16: Optional Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
August 5: Optional Memorial of the Dedication of St. Mary Major
August 15: Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
August 22: Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
September 8: Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
September 12: Optional Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary
September 15: Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows
October 7: Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary
November 21: Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Except for the month of April, which occurs either during the Lenten or Easter seasons, every month of the year has at least one feast of Mary. Also in Ordinary Time, if there is no other feast, Saturdays are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Holy Mother Church spreads the feasts so that devotion to Our Lady can grow, develop, and be nurtured in a steady rhythm through the year.

The feasts have different focal points. The pivotal feasts of our Lady are those that reflect her role as co-Redemptorix: the Solemnities of the Immaculate Conception; Mary, Mother of God; the Annunciation of the Lord; and the Assumption. Not included in the list, but Christmas and Epiphany also are feasts of Christ, but reflect Mary's role. Pope Paul VI also points out the

celebrations that commemorate salvific events in which the Blessed Virgin was closely associated with her Son. Such are the feasts of the Nativity of Our Lady (September 8), ...the Visitation (May 31),... Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15)...[and] the Presentation of the Lord.

(The fuller descriptions in Marialis Cultus are worthwhile reading!) The remaining feasts are commemorations of devotions, that are not part of the active salvific role of Mary with Jesus, but emphasize different gifts of Our Lady.

My favorite way of learning to love Christ and His Church (and His Mother) is through sacred music. "Strewing" is a common term especially used in homeschooling circles, meaning to put interesting articles in the paths of your children to discover. In my home books and music are my main "strewing." Music is not as tangible, but the ways I strew music:

1) singing or humming a song
2) playing a music recording
3) playing a tune on the piano
4) leaving sheet music on the piano
5) writing out the text of the song

I find learning the melodies and the text of sacred chants and hymns is one of the best ways to enter deeper into the liturgy and expand our devotion. When my sons were babies, I used to sing what I called "liturgical lullabies", lulling them to sleep with chants of the Church, such as Salve Regina and Ave Maria. As they grew older we would choose a hymn for the year or liturgical season and sing before bedtime. Now instead of singing only at bedtime, the hymns are sung at all times. Most of the time it's not a planned time for singing, but the humming and singing is woven throughout the day. My older son is learning to play the piano and loves to sight-read his favorite hymns. I will introduce them by singing or playing them, and then leave the music on the piano for him to play.

There are two Marian hymns we will use throughout this year. The Lourdes Hymn, also known as Immaculate Mary is directly linked to the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. This is the hymn used in procession at the Grotto of Lourdes in France and one of the more common hymns on Marian feast days. I want to expand this hymn in my home by first introducing the true Lourdes version (which has a slightly different tune in the refrain) and also use different versions of verses. Another tradition I am incorporating is singing the refrain (the Lourdes version) in between decades of the rosary.

There are multiple sites to print the sheet music. A website with a collection of hymnals, Hymnary.org, has a collection of hymnals from different faiths and ages, including many Catholic hymnals. Church Music Association of America (CMAA) has a list of English hymns in the commons, including a .pdf file to print of "Immaculate Mary our Hearts are on Fire."

There is another set of verses that was originally found in the 1953 Pius X Hymnal (which a .pdf can be found at Corpus Christi Watershed) and later in Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles revised in 1983 (.pdf on Scribd):
 

  1. Immaculate Mary,
    So full of God’s grace
    Turn toward us in mercy
    And show us your face.
    Refrain: Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!
    Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!
     
  2. Immaculate Virgin,
    O handmaid so pure,
    Your heavenly beauty
    Will always endure. Refrain
     
  3. Immaculate Mother,
    Your Son is our King!
    Let voices proclaim you
    Our Queen as we sing: Refrain
     
  4. Immaculate Mary,
    Your praises we sing.
    You reign now in splendor
    With Jesus, our King. Refrain

The second hymn is Mary the Dawn, which is my absolute favorite Marian hymn, but relatively new to my sons. The Liturgy of the Hours includes this hymn for the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you listen to the podcast or app version of DivineOffice.org there is a lovely version by Kathleen Lundquist played on many Marian feast days.

There are a bit of controversial facts on its origins. The author of the text has often been labeled as Unknown, possibly from the Middle Ages. The tune was adapted from Psalm Tone, Mode IV by Justin Mulcahy, C.P. under the pseudonym Paul Cross. But sometimes Justin Mulcahy is given credit for the text, also.

MARY THE DAWN

Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!

Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!

Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the stem, Christ the Rose blood-red!

Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the cup, Christ the Saving Blood!

Mary the temple, Christ the temple’s Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!

Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!

Mary the mother, Christ the mother’s Son
By all things blest while endless ages run. Amen.

Some versions have two small changes: "Mary the rose tree, Christ the Rose blood-red" and "Both ever bless’d while endless ages run". The hymn originally appeared in the St. Pius X Hymnal in 1953, and repeated in later hymnals, including the in-print Adoremus Hymnal. There is also a beautiful SSA arrangement by Leo Nestor.

Regardless of who wrote the text, this is a haunting melody, and the words are rich. There is much to ponder on the relationship, "To Jesus, through Mary", which is why this will be repeated throughout the year. The hymn immediately captured my sons and I'm hearing strains of the melody repeated often.

And so with the Church's Marian feast days and our hymns to Our Lady, we are continuing our journey growing deeper in lunderstanding and in love for Mary our Mother throughout the Liturgical Year.

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