Marian Hymns at the Mass

A generation ago, the main fault line in Catholic liturgical music was instrumentation. I remember a discernment retreat in which a seminarian-to-be commented, “Oh no! We’re not having any of that,” when he noticed I was carrying a guitar case as well as conventional luggage. One of his friends advised me not to take him seriously. And to be sure, the retreat location didn’t even have a piano, let alone a pipe organ.

Today, a new line has opened along the hymn versus antiphon border. Fr McNamara stands at the border in this week’s Zenit liturgy Q&A. He also mixes it up with the issue of inserting Marian hymns into the liturgy, especially at the preparation of gifts. His conclusion:

(T)here is no reason to ban Marian songs for the gifts, if there is a good reason for having one. They are certainly justified on Marian feasts and probably also during the Marian months of May and October.

They could also be used on other occasions, but I believe that the criterion of their being “appropriate” is important. They should not just be used as fillers because nothing else is available. The lyrics should also in some way relate to the feast or to the mystery being celebrated, especially those texts which bring out Mary’s relationship with Christ.

Insofar as possible, just as all hymns used in the liturgy intended for community use, the text should preferably express an ecclesial profession of faith and not just a personal and individual devotion.

This would be the sense of my judgment on the issue.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to Marian Hymns at the Mass

  1. Todd,
    Outside of irresponsible practices of lazy thinkers who are charged with programming weekly and seasonally, I don’t see this as a major issue. There are Marian feasts aplenty in the calendar, as well as the mentioned adorational months. The requisite “Ave Maria” is going to be heard at the majority of sung funeral and wedding Masses.
    Even the semi-lazy programmers who choose from the publishers’ Chinese menus in their “aides” won’t find a Marian hymn listed in Ordinary or select seasons.
    At a time when we’re starting to wake from our slumber and come back to me known as the Proper antiphons and how purely they compliment all the other ritual aspects of every given Mass, I’d say we have larger tasks to complete if we want our musical worship to catch up to the greater intent of the Divine Liturgy.

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    I grew up being inundated with way too many of these saccharine bits of terrible hymnody and I blame them, in part, for my being a diabetic today:

    • At the Cross her station keeping

    • Ave Maria, O Maiden, O Mother

    • Bring flowers of the rarest

    • Hail, Holy Queen enthroned above

    • Hail, Mary, mother of our God

    • Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star

    • Immaculate Mary

    • Mother of mercy

    • My soul is filled with joy

    • Of one that is so fair and bright

    • O Mary, gentle one

    • O Mother blest

    • O purest of creatures

    • Sing of a girl in the ripening wheat

    • Sing of Mary, pure and lowly

    • Star of ocean, lead us

    • Star of sea and ocean

  3. Liam says:


    No “Mother Rat”?! My son, you grew up a sugar-free diet.

    I would not classify all of the listed pieces as saccharine (a few strike me as quite not necessarily so), but then again I am aware of how an electric organ with a volunteer playing schmaltzy chords and overusing the swell lever could render almost anything saccharine (I grew up in a parish afflicted with such).

    And where did O Sanctissima go?

  4. Anne says:

    I too grew up and loved the saccharine Marian hymns, a few of the above as well as some in French.

    I think it would be a good thing if contemporary composers wrote new songs, especially for liturgical use (for when it’s appropriate). I see Marian devotion in 2009 as problematic and outdated. It would never be my wish to interfere with those who are pious and love the devotion but I do believe the young women of today (and men) need a better way of viewing Mary. Descriptions such as Queen, Virgin, gentle, etc. are not appealing to the young people/feminists of today, IMO. We need new Marian songs!

  5. Liam says:


    There’s been a good number settings of metrical paraphrases of the Magnificat in the past couple of decades.

    I don’t think there is a problem with references to Mary as Queen and Virgin, but in our limited appreciation for what those titles entail – it’s good to encourage texts that avoid lapse into sentimental narrow understandings that have typically obtained in the more recent centuries.

    I think there has been a recovery of the sense that there is a hierarchy of Marian-associated texts for singing in Catholic liturgy:

    1. The Magnificat (Ted Marier’s SATB setting of the ICEL text is particularly wonderful)
    2. The Marian antiphons (Alma Redemptoris Mater, Ave Regina Caelorum, Regina Caeli, Salve Regina, Ave Maria)
    3. Marian hymns (and, arguable. Scriptural canticles of the precursors of Mary) that are used in the Liturgy of the Hours

    Then come other hymns. I am rather fond of the setting of “Thou Art The Star of Morning” to the French tune “Je sais, Vierge Marie” that’s found in Marier’s Hymns Psalms and Spiritual Canticles but originated in the Pius X Hymnal.

  6. Jim McK says:

    What are the chances of singing the Magnificat during the preparation of the gifts? I am appalled that so few Catholics even know of this song, the result of the diminishing importance of the Hours I imagine.

    But it seems like great lyrics for the gifts, from its recognition that all comes from God to the hope of God lifting the lowly and the promise of mercy with Abraham and his descendants forever.

  7. Gavin says:

    I’m now at a protestant church, but when I was at a Catholic church, I saved the Marian hymns for Marian days, and in October and May used them only for the closing hymn and only when there wasn’t a feast.

    I think Jimmy is extremely mistaken if he thinks Stabat Mater (“At the cross her station keeping”, since Latin is teh hardz) is saccharine. The usual English text very much lacks the beauty and force of the Latin, but it’s certainly a Jesus-centered hymn.

    And if Anne wants contemporary Marian music, there’s much to choose from. John Tavener has some really great settings of Orthodox Marian texts, such as the Annunciation and Dormition.

  8. arx22 says:

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

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