‘Salve Mater – A New Hymn’

The original plain-chant hymn, ‘Salve Mater’, dates from about the 12th century, and is attributed to a Carmelite. ‘Salve Mater – A New Hymn’ uses the beautiful melody, but with new words, not a translation of the original. They were written by Séamus Devitt C.Ss.R.. The first three verses were written to honour the 150th Jubilee of the handing of the icon of the Mother of Perpetual Help to the Redemptorists, in the year 1866 in Rome. Other verses are added, in honour of the Mother of God. Feel free to use any or all of the verses, in any combination that suits the needs of your congregation.

The music, the lyrics, a commentary on the lyrics, and finally the original plain-chant Salve Mater, follow below. Redemptorist Communications Ireland are the contact for publication of these verses.Redemptorist Communications, Unit A6, Santry Business Park, Swords Road, Dublin D09 X651, Ireland;  tel. (353) 1 492 2488: email:  sales@redcoms.org

Listen to the hymn on Youtube, sung in Singapore in August 2016, St. Gerard’s Choir at the Redemptorist Church, preparing for their Triduum in honour of the Mother of Perpetual Help. Click here.  (Recording of “Salve Mater, A New Hymn to Mary, The Mother of Perpetual Help” sung by St. Gerard’s Choir of Novena Church (Church of St. Alphonsus), Singapore during rehearsal on 7 August 2016 in preparation for Triduum for Our Mother of Perpetual Help from 31 August to 2 September. This hymn will be sung as a Responsorial Psalm during the Triduum.)




Melody: Salve Mater,  a hymn from c. 11th Century, attributed to a Carmelite.

New words, composed by Séamus Devitt, C.Ss.R.



1. Mary, blessèd one,

To us you always run:

We are to you

As Christ, your only Son:

Perpetual Help,

You’re with us in our tears:

We place our hands

In yours with all our fears.

O Maria!


2. Sister of all flesh,

So human with us all,

Disciples too,

We’re gathered by our call;

Perpetual Help

You are to us indeed:

We’ll watch with you

For all who are in need.

O Maria!


3.  Help Perpetual,

An Icon of our race,

With you we stand,

All filled with God’s own grace:

Our Sister Earth,

We’ll cherish, will not harm,

And hold the world

Of peoples in our arms:

O Maria!


4.  ‘Mother of our God’,

No honour could be more:

If we had words

As grains upon the shore,

If we had tongues

As there are blades of grass,

No higher praise

Would ever come to pass.

O Maria!


5.  ‘Bearer of our God’

This title above all;

You said your Yes

In answer to the Call:

The Uncontainable

You did contain!

In every age

Your name we will proclaim.

O Maria!


6. Mary, full of praise,

With heart so full of thanks,

In God your Saviour

Still your feet will dance:                        .

The lowly ones

Are lifted up on high,

And, one with us,

You sing your song of Joy.

O Maria.


7. The Faith within your heart,

The Child within your womb,

God’s Living Word

Has found a home in you;

We too conceive,

We too bring Christ to birth,

‘Emmanuel’ ,

God-with-us here on earth.

O Maria!


8.  Virgin Mother

And ‘daughter of your Son’,

You gave your Yes

That God’s own will be done:

You are the living

Letter of the Lord.

Your very flesh

You offer to God’s Word.

O Maria.                                                           

Séamus Devitt C.Ss.R.      2016.                                       ©Redemptorist Communications, Ireland.


Notes to accompany the Hymn

PARADIGM SHIFT:  Pre-Vatican 2, everything about Mary was ‘privilege’ and different: After Vat 2, Mary is a woman of faith. (See p. 81 of ‘Mary, Mirror of the Church’, by R. Cantalamessa)

  • This icon of the Mother of Perpetual Help (Mater de Perpetuo Succursu)  is of Jesus, held: it is of Mary, the Mater Theou (Mother of God), holding: it is of the church, holding Christ. It is of the Church being held by the Mother of God. It is of each disciple holding the body of Christ in others. It is of each disciple being held by the church, held by our fellow-baptized, held by Mary.  ‘Mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur.’ Change the persons in the icon, and the icon is about us, in different roles, held and holding.
  • We ourselves are the living icons. This icon is our calling, too.


This version of SALVE MATER – A NEW HYMN revisits the oldest known hymn to the Blessed Mother, ‘Sub Tuum Praesidium’, sometimes translated as ‘We fly to thy protection (or ‘patronage’), O Holy Mother of God…’, a hymn found in Egypt from the mid 3rd century, and used in night prayer in many places: the Greek word εσπλαγχνίαν, used in the original, refers to the intestines, the bowels of compassion, which causes someone to run and help another in distress. σπλαγχνίαν is the word used in the Gospels when the Good Samaritan ‘was moved with compassion’, or Jesus ‘was moved with compassion’ towards the woman in the synagogue bent over for many years. The response is a stomach-churning response. In Greek, the word is also used when an army is in distress and re-enforcements are sent forward immediately and powerfully. One’s whole inside responds powerfully to another’s need.

Beneath Thy Protection (Greek: π τν σν εσπλαγχνίαν; Latin: Sub tuum præsidium) is the oldest preserved extant hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary as Theotokos..

Secondly, ‘Perpetuo Succursu’ comes from the Latin verb ‘succurrere’ or sub- & -currere, to run beneath, to run to catch someone stumbling: succurre cadenti, ‘help the falling ones’ (as in Alma Redemptoris Mater).

Thirdly, the reading for the Dedication of St. Mary Major’s in Rome, August 5th, is from the sermon given at the Council of Ephesus in 431AD, by St. Cyril of Alexandria, about Mary, the Theotokos, and the amazement at this mystery. Some phrases from his homily to the Council Fathers:  ‘Holy Mary… you contained the uncontainable in your holy virginal womb.’ ‘Through you, nations are led to repentance’. ‘…both virgin and mother. The wonder astounds me.; ‘Bow before the Trinity as we sing praises of the ever-virgin Mary.’ (St. Mary Major’s was the first shrine in Rome to the Mother of God, following on from the above Council. It was to this church that Pope Francis came, early in the morning after his election as Pope, to ask the prayers of Our Lady of Rome.)

Finally, the words and melody of the hymn SALVE MATER MISERICORDIAE were, it seems, composed by a Carmelite, and date from about the 11th Century. It is with trepidation, therefore, that I presume to write new words for the music of this ancient hymn. Let them stand.

Note re the Verses:

Verses 1,2,3  refer more directly to the icon of the Mother of Perpetual Help, and can be used on their own with the Refrain, if necessary.

Verse 4 echoes the words of Luther: ‘In the title ‘Mother of God’, all honour is included: no one could say anything greater of her or to her, even if he had as many tongues as there are blades of grass, or stars in the sky or grains of sand in the sea. We must let our hearts reflect on what it means to be the Mother of God.’ (Luther)  See R. Cantalamessa ‘Mary, Mirror of the Church’, p.66.

Verse 5:  Theotokos, ‘Bearer of God’: At the Council of Ephesus, Bishop Cyril of Alexandria spoke to the assembly, about the title, and about how Mary ‘contained the Uncontainable’.  An extract from his sermon is found in the Office of Readings for August 5th, Feast of Dedication of St. Mary Major’s in Rome.

Verse 6: ‘My spirit rejoices in God my saviour’: the Greek word used here is ‘my feet are dancing up and down with joy’. This verse picks up on the Magnificat.

Verse 7: We are all of us ‘mothers of Christ’ as Mary was, by faith in Christ.   We all ‘bring forth Christ according to the Spirit’ (Vat.2)

Verse 8: ‘Virgin Mother, Daughter of your Son’ is a phrase from Dante.

Séamus Devitt, C.Ss.R.

St. Patrick’s, Esker, Athenry, Co. Galway, Ireland.


From Luther:

“Men have crowded all her glory into a single phrase: The Mother of God. No one can say anything greater of her, though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on the trees.” (From the Commentary on the Magnificat.)

One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God’s grace . . . Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ . . . Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God. (Explanation of the Magnificat, 1521).

Luther’s Commentary on the Magnificat:

‘She herself cannot find a name worthy of his immense greatness, and can only let her love overflow, for these things are so great that we cannot express or measure them. So, with one word, by calling her “Mother of God,” we understand all her honor; we cannot tell of her or speak of her saying anything greater, even if we could speak as many languages as there are leaves and blades of grass, stars in the heavens and grains of sand in the sea. Therefore the heart must ponder on what it signifies to be “Mother of God.”’ (Martin Luther, The Magnificat) – See more at: http://en.mariedenazareth.com/qui-est-marie/mary-mother-god-luthers-writings#sthash.4snviFFa.dpuf





























































Comments are closed.