May: Daily, daily, sing to Mary

We are nearing the end of May, the month Holy Mother Church dedicates to the Blessed Virgin. By a strange calendrical juxtaposition, in whose arrangement Pope Pius XII was central, May begins with a feast of Saint Joseph and ends with a feast of the Blessed Virgin. Of course, the impact of this arrangement (read: ancient feasts unhinged from their ancient feast days) continues to elicit profound lamentation from many Traditional quarters, which we shall not touch here.

The Virgin with Angels (fragment)
Regina Angelorum (fragment) | William-Adolphe Bouguereau | 1900

May in the Philippines is fiesta season. It is the time of the santacruzan and the flores de mayo. The former is a popular activity rooted originally in the devotion to the Holy Cross, a mystery play depicting the finding of the True Cross by Saint Helena. The latter is a month-long activity practiced throughout the archipelago, wherein Catholics gather in church in the afternoon to offer flowers to the Blessed Virgin and to sing hymns in her honour. Over time, the pageantry associated with the mystery play (santacruzan) and the Marian devotion (flores de mayo) became conflated, that many Filipinos nowadays find it difficult to separate one from the other.

But allow us to digress now.

Flores de mayo
Flores de mayo | Arturo Montero y Calvo | 1884

The Marian dedication of May is reason enough to devote parts of our choral repertoire to the Blessed Virgin. The Philippines celebrates many Marian feasts in May, and for each title, there exist already two or three hymns especially associated with it. It is a relief, therefore, that there are also Marian hymns that speak of no particular title or patronage, which we can elect to sing any Sunday or weekday at Mass. We now present a Marian hymn that once was widespread in its many vernacular translations in the archipelago.

Daily, daily, sing to Mary

Daily, daily, sing to Mary exists in Cebuano as Adlaw-adlaw kang María, in Hiligaynon as Adlaw-adlaw kay María, and in Tagalog as Araw-araw kay María. Whoever translated this hymn into the aforementioned languages, their identities we leave to other purveyors of religious music. Of course, there are several versions in English but the most popular seems to have been penned by Fr. Henry Bittleston, M. A., (1818–1860), an Anglican curate who, like John Henry Cardinal Newman, converted to Catholicism and became an Oratorian. His text appears in the Birmingham 1854 Oratory Hymn Book (no. 39). The composer of the melody, unfortunately, remains unknown to us.

This English text, however, is but a translation of a lengthy Latin original called Omni die dic Mariæ, and it is a handsome rendition of the words. Long thought to have been authored by Saint Casimir of Poland (owing to the fact that a copy of the text was discovered to have been buried with the saint when his sacrophagus was opened), more recent scholarship has deemed it necessary to change the attribution of the Latin text, identifying Saint Bernard of Cluny as the poet behind the hymn.

Laid out in stanzas alternating with acatalectic and catalectic trochaic dimetre verses, the stanzas of the poem rhyme internally in the first and third verses (aa/b, cc/b). This, of course, is a non-classical or non-quantitative assessment; in classical metre, the first half of the first verse would be a spondee and an iamb, and not two trochees: ōmnī dĭē. Every two stanzas, the melody of the hymn changes, forming the pattern aa-bb-cc; thus, every six stanzas, the tone repeats. Centonised from the original poem, a version of this hymn set to chant appears in the Cantus selecti (no. 123) with a total number of 12 verses. A choral version of this chant, arranged for four voices, is available.

Omnie die dic Mariae (4 vv.)

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.


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