Twelfth Century Antiphon
Christopher O'Donnell, O.Carm.
The Regina coeli comes from an unknown author of the twelfth century and celebrates the joy of the Easter season. From the sixteenth or following century we find it in the evening offices of the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours and in place of the Angelus during Paschal time. It is a simple prayer of remarkable theological density.
It addresses Mary: “Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.” The title “queen” is very ancient. It can be said to have a biblical basis. If the apostles, and indeed all the true followers of Jesus, are to sit on thrones (see Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-30; Revelation 3:20-21), surely Mary, who perfectly fulfils all the demands of her Son’s teaching, must also surely reign.
The antiphon unites the Incarnation and the Paschal event: “For he whom you merited to bear, alleluia. Has risen as he said, alleluia.” It is the fullness of joy announced by Gabriel at the Annunciation. It continues with a plea for Mary’s intercession, “Pray for us to God, alleluia.” It then enters into her paschal joy. Instead of letting the feast of the resurrection happen and pass us by, we are to follow Mary in constantly pondering: “Be glad and rejoice, O Virgin Mary, alleluia. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.” There is a modern hymn which says, “We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song.”
The prayer which follows is modelled the liturgy which remembers Mary only to go to the Father: “O God who gave joy to your family through the resurrection of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; grant we ask you that through his Mother, the Virgin Mary, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.”
In this prayer we are again concerned with the greatest and ultimate issue of our Christian lives, salvation, which means sharing the joy of the resurrection of Jesus. This prayer to the Father is made through the one mediator, “through the same Christ our Lord” (see 1 Timothy 2:4-5), but it is also “through his Mother, the Virgin Mary,” that is a subordinate mediation that involves her intercession.
It is in prayer that we can most easily experience the truths of the faith about Mary; in the Regina coeli we can find an invitation to, and a model for, Paschal joy.
Regina coeli! laetare, Alleluja;
Quia quem meruisti portare, Alleluja.
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, Alleluja.
Ora pro nobis Deum, Alleluia.
V/ Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluja.
R/ Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluja.
O Queen of heaven, rejoice, Alleluia.
For he whom you were privileged to bear, Alleluia;
Has risen as he said, Alleluia.
Pray for us to God, Alleluia.
V/ Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, Alleluia.
R/ For the Lord has risen indeed, Alleluia.