The Alma Redemptorist Mater and Hermann the Lame

Last Saturday eve was the turn of the season and the turn of the year.  The long march of the second phase of Ordinary Time that began after the second Vespers of Pentecost in May ended this November 30 at the First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent and a new season and new liturgical year began; we now await the coming of the Lord and the Feast of the Incarnation on December 25.

In the Traditional calendar of the Catholic Church’s Latin Rite the seasonal Marian antiphon or anthem changed.  There are four Marian antiphons spaced through the different seasons of the year: the Alma Redemptoris Mater that is sung from the vigil of the First Sunday of Advent to the Feast of the Presentation on the February 2, the Ave Regina Caelorum that is sung from Compline on February 3 to Compline on Holy Thursday, the Regina Coeli that is sung from Holy Saturday night (coinciding with the Easter Vigil) until the Saturday following Pentecost, and the Salve Regina that is sung from Trinity Sunday to the Friday that follows the Feast of Christ the King.  These Marian antiphons are sung at the close of Compline, the last prayer of the day, and were traditionally sung at the close of the Mass to offer all our prayers to God through Mary’s hands.

The current hymn, the Alma Redemptoris Mater:

Alma Redemptoris Mater, qui pervia caeli porta manes, et stella maris, succurre 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.

This great hymn celebrates the wonder of the Virgin giving birth to her Creator and begs for her aid to help those of us who are not worthy, yet seek to rise above our sins.  Tradition ascribes its composition, along with the Salve Regina, to one Hermann Contractus, Hermann the Lame, during the early part of the eleventh century.  In fact Hermann Contractus  was born on February 18, 1013, making this year the 1000th anniversary of his birth.  Hermann Contractus’ life is interesting as it relates to the unity between the East and the West.  He was born the son of a Count, an aristocrat, in Althausen in what is now southern Germany and died a monk on the island of Reichenau in Lake Constance on the current border between Switzerland and Germany on September 21, 1054, the year of the great schism between the churches of Rome and Constantinople.

Hermann was crippled and unable to move without assistance for his entire life, but through extraordinary effort accomplished so much intellectual work and contributed these two Marian hymns that gave so much to the character of the Church during the second millennium.  Interestingly enough Hermann is credited with knowledge of the Latin, Greek, and Arabic tongues.  Arabic, think of it, a lame monk living on an island in a lake on the modern border between Switzerland and Germany knew both Greek and Arabic in the year 1054.  He died half a century before the Crusades.  This shows that undoubtedly the link between Europe and the East had not been completely broken despite the tumult that had occurred in the previous four centuries since the rise of Islam.

Pray for the unity of the Church for the unity of East and West that we may breathe with both lungs once more: pray the Rosary Monday for the See of Constantinople, Tuesday for the See of Antioch, Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

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