Marian Antiphons

In the Liturgy of the Hours of the Catholic Church, there are four seasonal antiphons sung to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her intercession before the throne of God and her Divine Son, Jesus Christ. The following article gives the historical background of the antiphons:



Michel Huglo in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians gives the definition of antiphon: "In Latin Christian chant generally, a liturgical chant with a prose text, sung in association with a psalm" (47)..."derived from the classical Greek antiphonis ('resonating with')" : "And in later Christian texts, the term 'antiphonia' was used to mean 'antiphony', or psalmody sung by two choirs, perhaps to distinguish it from responsorial psalmody, performed by a soloist." It was used in early Christianity as a type of liturgical worship, as is documented in Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428), and even as early as Ambrose (d. 397) who wrote antiphons and hymns. (p. 472)

Antiphona generally precede short chants, with texts averaging between ten and twenty-five words and simple melodies. "Several categories of antiphon developed without any link with psalmody, such as the great processional antiphons of the Gregorian processional." (p. 472, Part V)Although antiphons normally have biblical texts, these four processional antiphons express instead the devotion of the people. (p. 472)

"The composers of the antiphon melodies, like all composers of chant, borrowed the elements of their compositions from pre-existing models, and did not seek originality. The models themselves seem to have been fixed in the second half of the eighth century for Gregorian chant." (p. 473) If we were thus able to trace the antiphons to their earliest possible origin, the models for them were probably fixed in this time period.

The Marian antiphons have been sung, since the thirteenth century, at the close of Compline, the last Office of the liturgical day; they occur in groups in antiphoners and processionals, usually together with the Proper of the Assumption (August 15). They comprise a group from the early repertory of antiphons (especially those for Christmas).

The The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicans states:

The most important of the Marian antiphons are, however, the large-scale antiphons: Salve Regina, Alma Redemptoris Mater..., Ave Regina Coelorum...and Regina Coeli.... [The best known of the four is the Salve Regina. The Cistercians chanted the Salve Regina daily from 1218; the Dominicans at Bologna chanted it daily at Compline after a miracle in 1230, and the custom was adopted by the entire Order in 1250. The chapter general of the Franciscans at Metzin 1249 prescribed all four of these antiphons for Compline, though not in the same way as in the Roman breviary of 1568; indeed, practice varied considerably in this matter, as may be seen in Table 1 [showing the distribution of the Marian antiphons in four churches in the fifteenth century].

SenlisAix-en-Provence La Chaise-DieuSelestat
Sunday [?] Alma Redemptoris Mater Quam dilecta Ave regina
Monday Alma Redemptoris Mater Mater patris Gaude virgo Nigra sum
Tuesday Sub tuum Ave regina Ave regina Ista est
Wednesday Haec est Ave virgo sanctissima Ave stella Tota pulchra
Thursday Tota pulchra Ave regina ... mater Gaude Dei genitrix Descendi
Friday Ave regina coelorum Ave virgo sanctissima Speciosa Alma Redemptoris mater
Saturday Salve Regina Salve regina
(Regina coeli in Paschaltide)
Salve regina
(Regina coeli in Paschaltide)
Salve regina


  • Dictionary of Mary, Catholic Book Publishing, 1985.
  • Handbuch der Marienkunde, Regensburg,Verlag Froedrocj Pustet, 1984.
  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Macmillan Publishers,1980.
  • Katholische Kirchenlieder: Quellennachweis von Texten und Melodien, Herder, 1930.
  • Marienlexikon, EOS Verlag, 1993.
  • Szoverffy, Josef, Die Annalen der Lateinischen Hymnendichtung, Berlin, 1965.

The research for Antiphons was done by Sr. M. Jean Frisk, Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary.