I did not grow up with the Salve Regina as a part of my faith life -- we prayed it on occasion and I got the Latin down, but that was about it. I'm a Gen Xer and so Latin was not typically part of my Catholic experience. The Latin prayers and songs were used on occasion, but not enough that it was part of the fabric of my own life of faith.
Then the nuns happened. I rediscovered the Salve Regina not as a prayer from Latin days past, but a vibrant prayer which "locates" me in sisterhood.
Here's what went down.
In undergrad and grad school, I met not just individual Catholic sisters and nuns but communities of sisters. I experienced sisters interacting with one another, practicing customs unique to their own communities and to religious life as a whole. And I heard the Salve Regina -- a lot. Now of course, the Salve (as we call it in the 'hood) is a Catholic prayer -- not unique to religious life. Yet it has never failed that when I'm with a religious community or any gathering with sisters and nuns, the Salve pops up -- almost like a common prayer we all hold together.
Early on in my nun days, my familiarity and attachment to the prayer came because we sing the Salve Regina at the Remembering prayer service, funeral mass, or burial of a sister who has died. Sometimes accompanied, most times a cappella, a sister intones the first syllable and suddenly a full 52-part choir of nuns bursts into song. Some of us don't even know how to sing or hold a tune, yet we join our voices together and pray our hearts out for our sister "dwelling now in light, yet ever near."
I then found that many sisters and nuns from other congregations have a similar custom. Last month I was at a gathering at which there were many different sisters and nuns present from many different communities. Among us was one sister who had to leave suddenly due to a death in the family. As we gathered for our next meeting, one sister pulled together a few more sisters so that at prayer that morning, we could pray for the family. Our prayer of course included the Salve. As one sister began, from each table you could hear the religious sisters and brothers join their voices together and soon everyone at the meeting was enveloped in prayer on behalf of the grieving family.
Just this week, on the great feast of the Immaculate Conception (a feast day for MANY women's religious communities), we celebrated Sister Barbara's first profession of vows and belted out the Salve Regina. You could feel the fullness of sisterhood as the words echoed throughout chapel reminding us once again that this one particular sister's "yes" was united with everyone's "yes" to God and God's mission in the world!
I would love to hear about what the Salve Regina means for you, and, for those who belong to a religious community, what the community's customs are. Is there another prayer that for you "locates you" in sisterhood or in communion with others?
- Salve Regina history and translation at University of Dayton
- Salve Regina video - A virtual choir made up of Carmelite Nuns, Friars and Seculars from around the world