California Catholic Daily exclusive by Roseanne Sullivan.
“Alma Redemptoris Mater” is a Marian hymn traditionally sung during Advent and the Christmas season. It was composed by Blessed Hermannus Contractus (1013-1054) in Germany, and it was so well-known by the fifteenth century that it played an important part in the “Prioress’s Tale,” one of the stories in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The antiphon is far less known today, but it is an inspiring part of the Church’s heritage of Sacred Music and deserves to be brought back into common use.
“Alma Redemptoris Mater” is one of the four seasonal Marian antiphons that exist in two chant versions, a simple tone and a solemn tone–a more-elaborate setting sung on certain important feasts. Polyphonic motets were composed for “Alma Redemptoris Mater” by some of the great Renaissance composers, such as Palestrina and Lassus.
(above) Alma Redemptoris Mater (by Palestrina) sung at the offertory of the Mass for the Feast of St. Anthony, Abbot, January 17, 2017 on EWTN
(above) “Alma Redemptoris Mater” (from 1:45: 00 – 1:46:05 in the video) is also sung in some places once a year at Christmas, as after this Midnight Mass with Pope Francis in the simple tone.
(above) Alma Redemptoris Mater (Solemn Tone)
Where You Can Hear It Sung
Aside from Christmas Masses televised from the Vatican, occasional Masses on EWTN, and on YouTube videos, California residents have the following options to hear “Alma Redemptoris Mater” locally during the remainder of Advent and the Christmas season until February 2.
Traditional Mass Apostolates
- You can hear Alma Redemptoris Mater sung by the congregation, priest and servers after Masses at the two California apostolates of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.
- Immaculate Heart of Mary Oratory in San Jose
- St. Margaret Mary in Oakland.
- The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter sings Marian antiphons after Compline and after public celebrations of Vespers if Compline doesn’t immediately follow. Check local FSSP parishes for schedules.
St. Ann Choir, Palo Alto, CA
- You can hear the St. Ann Choir sing the solemn tone of “Alma Redemptoris Mater” after their weekly Vespers, which start at 6:15 on Sunday evenings at St. Ann Chapel, 541 Melville Ave, Palo Alto California 94301. For more information call 1 (650) 723-0797 or write: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Each week, the choir practices the chants for the propers (the changeable parts of the Mass) and several motets, which they sing at every Mass. They also prepare Polyphonic Masses for special feasts during the year. Rehearsals are on Thursday evenings between 7:30 and 9:30 and for an hour before Mass on Sunday mornings. The Marian antiphons are a familiar part of their common repertoire and are not practiced.
In some Carmelite monasteries, all of which are dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the seasonal Marian antiphons may be sung on Sundays and Marian feasts throughout the year at the conclusion of Masses.