The “Salve, Regina”, or “Hail, Holy Queen”, by Father B Rohner, OSB

a sculpture of 'Salve Regina', date and artist unknown; Cathedral of Speyer, Germany; photographed on 31 October 2005 by Joachim Köhler; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsChristian reader, have you ever given due attention to the words and thoughts contained in the favorite prayer of praise, “Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy”? Have you ever heard it chanted, or even recited, in the great cathedral at Spire, or in the miracle-chapel at Einsiedeln? If you have, then you must have heard tones and expressions that raised your heart to the throne of Mary in heaven.

Every good Catholic knows the words of this favorite and time-honored prayer which, in English, reads as follows:

The Salve, Regina

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope; to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this, our exile, is ended, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus; O element, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!

The Author of the “Salve, Regina”

The author of this beautiful anthem to the Blessed Virgin was Blessed Herman the Cripple, or Contractus. He was the son of Count Wolfrad II of Veringen and his worthy wife, Hiltrude. He was born in the year 1009. Under the careful guidance of his pious mother the boy Herman grew in innocence and piety. All promised well until he was attacked in his sixth year by a severe fit of illness which stunted his growth and contracted his limbs in such a manner that he was compelled to use crutches from that time till the day of his death. Hence came his name, Herman Contractus, or Herman the Cripple. Although his sufferings were intense nearly all the time, and although his body ceased to develop, his keenly active soul became more closely united to God, and its powers grew and strengthened under this heavy cross of bodily affliction. His great love and sincere devotion for the “Mother of the afflicted ” secured him peace of soul and even lightened his bodily sufferings. We are told however, that he continued to pray to his beloved Mother for restoration to health and strength, if it should be pleasing to God. Pious legend informs us that when he had prayed thus for some months, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and offered him the choice between two gifts; namely, health or wisdom. Herman, without hesitating a moment, chose the gift of wisdom. He made a wise selection, for notwithstanding his bodily infirmities he became one of the most learned men of his time. Under the poor form of a deformed body there dwelt a noble soul, a clear and richly gifted intellect, and a humble and charitable heart.

Herman, resolving to leave the world in order to devote himself to the service of God and the acquisition of wisdom and learning, entered the Order of Saint Benedict. He lived for some time in the renowned monastery of Saint Gall in Switzerland, and afterward in a no less famous seat of piety and learning, the monastery of Reichenau, situated on a beautiful island in Lake Zurich, near Constance.

Although this crippled and deformed monk never passed a day without intense suffering of body, he labored cheerfully and assiduously in acquiring spiritual perfection and also in laying up stores of useful knowledge for the benefit of his fellow-men then living and yet to be born. From the whole Catholic world, and from the friends and servants of Mary in particular, he deserves sincere thanks for having given to the Church the beautiful hymn of the “Salve, Regina,” or “Hail, holy Queen.”

Christian reader, now that you know the author of this invocation to Mary, you will be more interested in it and appreciate it more thoroughly than you ever did before. Who could speak with more effect of “this valley of tears” than the poor crippled monk? Who realized more fully the miseries of this exile on earth? Well might he cry out to his blessed Mother, “After this, our exile, is ended, show unto us Jesus.” Thus you perceive that the “Salve, Regina” is the outpouring of a soul wholly devoted to Mary and relying on her motherly assistance.

Herman, in his forty-fifth year, died as he had lived, breathing tender affection for Jesus and Mary. Although his bodily pains became more intense as death approached, he bore all without a murmur, and peacefully expired on the 24th of September, 1054. He is ranked among the saints belonging to the Benedictine Order.

The “Salve, Regina” Receives and Addition

In the year 1146 Saint Bernard, the illustrious doctor of the Church and abbot of Clairvaux, was travelling through Germany and by the power of his eloquence was rousing the people of that country to the necessity of entering upon another crusade, a spirited one, in order to wrest from the iron grasp of the heathens those places in Palestine that had been sanctified by the footsteps, and moistened with the blood, of our holy Redeemer. Passing from Switzerland, by way of Strasbourg, Saint Bernard sailed down the river Rhine and landed at Spire, on Christmas eve, 1146. In a grand procession, Composed of the civic societies and trades unions, with their banners waving in the air, and holding lighted tapers in their hands, followed in turn by the clergy with their bishop clad in pontifical robes, Saint Bernard was com ducted, amid every sign of respect from the multitudes who lined the streets of the city, to the majestic cathedral. Here, amid the chant of the choristers and the joyful pealing of the bells, the great preacher of the holy wars was met by the Emperor Conrad and all the royal princes of the court, who tendered to their illustrious guest the welcome of their realm. It was a scene of great magnificence as the saint crossed the threshold of the sacred edifice. Thousands had to remain outside the building, for the saint’s great reputation for sanctity and the fame of the wondrous miracles that he had wrought, as well as his renowned eloquence, had drawn vast crowds from far and near, eager to get a glimpse of his venerable person. As the solemn procession, preceded by the cross and other standards, marched slowly up the grand aisle of the cathedral, a choir of a thousand voices chanted the hymn, “Salve, Regina,” or “Hail, holy Queen.” The lofty vaults of the sacred edifice spanning many altars ablaze with a thousand lights, the soldierly form of the emperor, the venerable mien of the holy bishops, the long files of white-robed priests, the vast crowds of admiring people, the inspiring strains of the music, and all this but the expression of truly Catholic hearts, over-powered the soul of Saint Bernard with emotions of intense gratitude to God and His blessed Mother. The altar Was reached as the singers’ voices repeated the last words of the “Salve, Regina.” A profound silence ensued as the words, “Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exilium ostende” – that is, “Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” died away. In a moment of inspiration, and overwhelmed with the loftiest sentiments of piety towards the Blessed Virgin, the great Saint Bernard, in thrilling tones, exclaimed spontaneously, “O clemens, O pia, O dukis Virgo Maria!” that is, “O element, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!”

From that moment the “Salve, Regina” continued to have a new ending. The love-breathing words of Saint Bernard, the honey-tongued doctor, as holy Church styles him, were universally adopted, and added, with a will by all, to the “Salve, Regina” originally composed by Blessed Herman the Cripple. They form a beautiful and fitting ending to a beautiful apostrophe to the Mother of God. In the cathedral at Spire, every day, from that time till our day, the “Salve, Regina” is sung solemnly in memory of the events so sacred which led to the inspired composition of its present ending and in memory of the saint who uttered the beautiful words.

The “Salve, Regina” Beloved by the Church and Her Saints

This hymn of Blessed Herman has been so far honored in the Church as to be formally inserted in her daily public and private services. Every priest is obliged to recite it, at the end of the Divine Office, every day from Trinity Sunday till the beginning of Advent. In those churches where the Divine Office is chanted in choir solemnly, this antiphon is sung every evening with all the solemnity that the ceremonial and music of the Church can give it.

Towards the end of the last century the powers of hell, aided by the mischievous efforts of the infidels, strove hard in many countries, notably in France and Germany, to bury out of sight all external, and, indeed, internal, respect and devotion to the Mother of God and to the other saints of the Church.

In order to defeat these unholy efforts many devout persons among the laity, several of whom were persons of high and respectable standing, formed themselves into societies for the defence of devotion to Mary and other saints, to make reparation for the indignities offered to her and to implore her aid in their own behalf. They agreed among themselves to recite, at least once every morning, the hymn, “Salve, Regina,” adding to it the versicle:

“Make me worthy to praise thee, holy Virgin; give me strength against thine enemies; blessed be God in His saints. Amen.”

In the evening they repeated devoutly the short but beautiful prayer, “We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, O ever glorious and blessed Virgin.” Then followed the versicle, “Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

The Sovereign Pontiff not only gave his approval to this simple and edifying mode of doing honor to the Blessed Virgin, but also was pleased to enrich it with indulgences.

You will not wonder, therefore, dear Christian reader, that God’s favorite saints loved to recite and sing this anthem of the “Hail, holy Queen” with joyful hearts, receiving in compensation abundant graces in their devout souls. It will also be to your spiritual advantage if you recite it often and piously. When doing so remember the words of Saint Bernard, “By a saint was this hymn of supplication composed, by other saints it was introduced into the every-day devotions of the faithful; therefore it can be used properly only by saints or those who wish to become such. For, in very truth, it can be fully understood and appreciated, and sung with edification, only by those who are animated with purely religious sentiments of heart and soul. It is so sweet and tender in its suggestions to the ways of grace, so fruitful in begetting holy emotions, so profoundly explanatory of holy mysteries, that it can never be meditated on and studied out by us as it deserves. When its tender strains and its pathetic words strike our ear, it acts most forcibly on all our best feelings; it enriches our souls with its own fullness of beauty and virtue and carries us so far heavenward towards our blessed Lady that we seem to stand before her, saluting her face to face.”

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898