Catholic Hymn You Should Know: Alma Redemptoris Mater

John Kubasak

Catholic Hymn You Should Know: Alma Redemptoris Mater

The Alma Redemptoris Mater is one of the many antiphons devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is sung after Compline (also called Night Prayer) from Advent until the Feast of the Presentation.  Traditionally, the antiphon is attributed to the 11th century monk Hermann Contractus. Another historical marker of the antiphon is in literature. Chaucer made a passing allusion to the antiphon in his late 14th century work, The Canterbury Tales, in the Prioress’ Tale.  

The whole of the prayer consists of the antiphon, a verse/response, and a concluding prayer. For this post, we’ll only discuss the antiphon and not the latter two elements. This beautiful hymn is a great one for Catholics to know, learn, and pray with during Advent and the Christmas season all the way through January. 


A Note on the Liturgy of the Hours

The liturgical life of the Church includes more than the Holy Mass. The prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office, is a daily schedule prayed by clergy, religious, and the faithful across the world. The first hour of the office is Vigils, also called the Office of Readings. This is followed by Lauds (Morning Prayer), Midday Prayer (which can be said in the midmorning, at noon, or in the afternoon), Vespers (Evening Prayer), and Compline (Night Prayer). Just on the clerical/religious side, on any given day, 5,340 bishops, 407,872 priests, 49,176 permanent deacons, 608,958 women religious pray the Divine Office every day throughout the world. That’s over 1 million people praying for the Church five times a day (numbers from 2021). Praise the Lord!

At the conclusion of Compline, an antiphon is sung in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The antiphon turns with the liturgical calendar—Alma Redeptoris Mater from the first Sunday of Advent through the Feast of the Presentation, Ave Regina Caelorum from after the Presentation through Holy Saturday, Regina Coeli from Easter through Pentecost, and Salve Regina from Pentecost until the first Sunday of Advent.  


Text of the Antiphon  

Here is the Latin text, and here is the text sung in chant. 

Alma Redemptoris Mater, quae pervia Caeli 

Porta manes, et stella maris, sucurre cadenti, 

Surgere qui curat populo: tu quae genuisti, 

Natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem, 

Virgo prius ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore

Sumens illud Ave, peccatorum miserere.


Here is one translation into English: 

O loving Mother of our Redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea,

Hasten to aid thy fallen people who strive to rise once more.

Thou who brought forth thy holy Creator, all creation wond'ring, 

Yet remainest ever Virgin, taking from Gabriel's lips

that joyful "Hail!": be merciful to us sinners.  


Mary and Jesus

Redemptoris Mater (“Mother of the Redeemer”) is one of the many titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a reminder that the role and dignity of Mary comes from her Son. St. John Paul II wrote an encyclical of the same name on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life of the Church. Wrapped up into her motherhood is the mystery of Christ: which includes all of salvation history, but our own adoption as sons and daughters of the Father.   

We ought to remember that the Incarnation of Jesus was for us. He came to bring us to the Father; to usher us into an intimacy with the Holy Trinity that no Old Testament prophet could dream. Mary being called the Gate of Heaven flows perfectly with her fiat. With that ‘yes’ to the Father, she opened the door of humanity to unimaginable graces from the Father. She stays at the door, holding it open for us too, beckoning us to come in and know her Son. 


Placement in the Advent/Christmas season

The second half of antiphon makes it a perfect fit for the Advent and Christmas season. It covers a lot of theological ground: the motherhood of Mary, the prophesied virgin birth of Jesus, the amazing event of the Annunciation, and the mystery of the Incarnation. All of these are wrapped up with the coming of Christ in the flesh on Christmas. Right in the middle of it all is Our Blessed Mother.  

St. John Paul II reflects: 

“through the mystery of Christ, on the horizon of the Church's faith there shines in its fullness the mystery of his Mother.  In turn, the dogma of the divine motherhood of Mary was for the Council of Ephesus and is for the Church like a seal upon the dogma of the Incarnation, in which the Word truly assumes human nature into the unity of his person, without cancelling out that nature.” (Redemptoris Mater #4).


Mary, Look Kindly Upon Your Children

The second line of the antiphon asks Mary to “hasten to aid thy fallen people” and ends by asking Mary to have mercy upon us sinners. In every prayer to Mary, we always ask her help. This pattern is found in the Hail Mary, the Salve Regina, and just about every marian hymn.  

We do this because Mary is our mother in the order of grace. “By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home” (Lumen Gentium, #61). Mary loved no one more than Jesus. Being adopted sons and daughters of the Father, that makes Mary our heavenly mother! “You have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:15-17).  

If the prayers of the righteous are “powerful and effective” (James 5:16), why would we not ask the prayers of the holiest non-divine person who ever lived? Add onto that the tender love of her Immaculate Heart, and we have an incredible intercessor in Mary.