This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue of our parish magazine.
The Catholic prayer to the Mother of God begins with a direct quote from the Archangel Gabriel when he visited Mary for the annunciation.
- Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
- Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
- et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
- Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
- ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
- nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.
- Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
- Blessed art thou among women,
- and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
- Holy Mary, Mother of God,
- pray for us sinners,
- now and in the hour of our death. Amen.
I was lucky enough to visit Rome in the summer of 2013, and beautiful rosaries, along with copies of this prayer, were available to buy for a few euro on every street corner. I was tempted, but resisted, believing these to be the visible trappings of Catholicism. Some months later, Rev Debby made it clear in one of her sermons that Anglicans are “allowed” to use both rosaries and this prayer, and the Mothers’ Union gave out copies at the end of the service. I took one, and keep it in my bag at all times.
This prayer has been set to music many times over the years, and here are (probably) the three best known:
The Bach/Gounod version comprises Bach’s Prelude No 1 in C major with a counter-melody superimposed over the top, written by the French composer Charles Gounod 137 years later, specifically for the purpose. An engaged couple, present at St Margaret’s to hear their banns being read in the spring of 2012, happened to hear Jennifer singing a solo during communion. They were so impressed that afterwards, the bride-to-be contacted us to see if Jennifer would sing this at their wedding, which of course she did, with pleasure. This version of Ave Maria is regularly chosen for weddings and funerals, and here it is sung by Karen Carpenter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKG1HCoQ1LY
Schubert’s version was originally a secular song written in German, using a translation of the text of Walter Scott’s poem, “The Lady of the Lake”. The Lady in question, Ellen, appeals to Mary in prayer for help and protection:
- Ave Maria! maiden mild!
- Listen to a maiden’s prayer!
- Thou canst hear though from the wild;
- Thou canst save amid despair.
- Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
- Though banish’d, outcast and reviled –
- Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer;
- Mother, hear a suppliant child!
- Ave Maria
Two more verses follow in a similar vein, and it is thought that the “Ave Maria” at the beginning and end of each verse inspired others to use the melody as a setting for the prayer. Here is a delightful recording of Maria Callas singing the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE1WoMocTlw
Perhaps less well known is Faure’s version. I think that his melody is rather more poignant than Bach/Gounod’s and Schubert’s. Jeremy pointed me towards it as it suits my vocal range, and is a beautiful solo to be able to offer. I sang it twice at St Margaret’s, both times during communion at the feast of the annunciation. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqWqMI0WK-g
I’m struggling to decide on a favourite setting for this prayer, and I don’t think it matters. They’re all lovely, and each is right for a different time and place. Enjoy them all!