Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven)
by H.T. Henry
Transcribed by Jim Holden
This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.
The opening words of the Eastertide anthem of the Blessed Virgin, the recitation of which is prescribed in the Roman Breviary from Compline of Holy Saturday until None of the Saturday after Pentecost inclusively.
In choro, the anthem is to be sung standing.
In illustration of the view that the anthem forms a "syntonic strophe", that is, one depending on the accent of the word and not the quantity of the syllable, it goes as follows:
Regina coeli laetere,
Quia quem meruisti portare.
Ora pro nobis Deum.
In the first two verses ("Regina" and "Quia") the accent falls on
the second, fourth, and seventh syllables (the word quia being
counted as a single syllable); in the second two verses ("Resurrexit", "Sicut dixit"), on the first and third syllables.
The Alleluia serves as a refrain.
Of unknown authorship, the anthem has been traced back to the twelfth century.
It was in Franciscan use, after Compline, in the first half of the following century.
Together with the other Marian anthems, it was incorporated in the Minorite-Roman Curia Office, which, by the activity of the Franciscans, was soon popularized everywhere, and which, by the
order of Nicholas III (1277-80), replaced all the older Office-books in all the churches of Rome. Batiffol (History of the Roman Breviary, tr. London 1898 pp. 158-228) admits that "we owe a just debt of gratitude to those who gave us the antiphons of the Blessed Virgin" (p. 225), which he considers "four exquisite compositions, though in a style enfeebled by sentimentality" (p. 218).
The anthems are indeed exquisite, although (as may appropriately be noted in the connection) they run through the gamut of medieval literary style, from the classical hexameters of the Alma
Redemptoris Mater through the richly-rhymed accentual rhythm and regular strophes of the Ave Regina Coelorum, the irregular syntonic strophe of the Regina Coeli, down to the sonorous prose rhythms (with rhyming closes) of the Salve Regina. "In the 16th
century, the antiphons of Our Lady were employed to replace the little office at all the hours" (Baudot, The Roman Breviary, London 1909 p. 71). The Regina Coeli takes the place of the Angelus during the Paschal Time.
The authorship of the Regina Coeli being unknown, legend says that Saint Gregory the Great (d. 604) heard the first three lines chanted by angels on a certain Easter morning in Rome while he walked barefoot in a great religious procession and that the saint thereupon added the fourth line: "Ora pro nobis Deum. Alleluia."
The authorship has also been ascribed to Gregory V, but without good reason.
The beautiful plainsong melodies (a simple and an ornate form) are variously given in the Ratisbon antiphonary and in the Solesmes Liber Usualis of 1908, the ornate form in the latter work, with rhythmical signs added, being very attractive.
The official or "typical" melody will be found (p. 126) in the Vatican Antiphonary (1911).
Only one form of melody is given.
The different syllabic lengths of the lines make the anthem difficult to translate with fidelity into English verse.
The anthem has often been treated musically by both polyphonic and modern composers.
Transcribed by Jim Holden
See New Advent Catholic Website
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Reprinted by permission of copyright owner.
See also CNP Booklet of Chant, Volume 2 (Lent/Easter)