Salve Regina, from beginning to end

Inmaculada Concepción; Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1767-1769

On a Saturday in mid-September, my religious community gathered at our motherhouse in Pennsylvania to celebrate the first profession of vows of one of our sisters. The “newbie,” as some might call her, has joined us in her first official mission at St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton. One particular memory of her vow ceremony lingers on for me.

As part of the post-Communion, we sisters all rose to sing the “Salve Regina,” the Hail Holy Queen, in Latin. For more than a century that has been our prayer for perseverance. I became acquainted with the custom when I was a novice. Sister Anastasia, who was then well into her eighties, told me that she stopped by the statue of the Blessed Mother every day to pray it. I remember being amused by the idea that someone her age would feel she needed to pray for perseverance. I thought it would make more sense for me, at age 26, to invoke the Mother of Mercy and the most gracious advocate on the topic.

As I’ve matured a bit — chronologically, at least — I’ve come to understand the custom much better. Whatever our age and whatever our calling, it is a certainty that we will encounter frustrations and temptations. Even if we’re not seriously tempted to abandon our state in life as a married person, a vowed religious, or as ordained clergy, we will always find abundant opportunities to compromise, to grow lax, to make excuses, and to forget how solemn our commitments are. For religious and clergy, it can be easy to become a good Church professional without becoming holy. For married people, it is quite possible to become good providers and good homemakers without remembering that the home is called to develop as domestic Church.

So we are always in need of reminders and renewal. When our SSCM community stood to sing the “Salve Regina,” I noticed that we all sang it by heart. No one needed words or music. That is how much it has become a part of us. But the more important issue is whether we also know the importance of perseverance by heart. Part of the witness of the vows and promises of consecrated religious and those who have been blessed by the sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders is the call to remain. We need staying power. 

That power comes from grace, but staying also depends on practice and refreshment, especially the spiritual refreshment that keeps us attentive to God’s will and ever grateful for life’s many blessings. The world desperately needs to see that the words “until death do us part” or “I vow until death” have force and that there are reasons to hang in there reliably and happily. It’s really all about the Lord, who is reliable and, as Scripture says, well pleased with good and faithful servants. 

That explains another custom our community has. We sing the “Salve Regina” at every sister’s funeral. The lifelong plea for motherly assistance turns into a hymn of thanksgiving that the sister has stayed and stayed — for God, for us, for good.

Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM
About Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM 94 Articles
SISTER PAMELA SMITH, SSCM, is the Director for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at psmith@charlestondiocese.org.