Schubert's Ave Maria

I recently heard that Pope Benedict XVI forbade Schubert’s Ave Maria from being incorporated into mass because the music to which it is set was originally part of a secular opera. Is this true? If so, I understand and accept the Pope’s decision, but I will miss hearing this beautiful song in Mass :(. I always considered it a very reverent and sincere devotion to Mary.

I don’t know if the Holy Father has forbidden Schubert’s Ave Maria to be sung at Mass, but I know that it was not written for an opera. It was composed in 1828 as a song for voice and piano with words from a Sir Walter Scott poem, “The Lady of the Lake.” The character in the poem was singing about the Virgin Mary, and Schubert, a Catholic, was devoted to Mary, but the words of the prayer Ave Maria were set to the song by someone else later. I can’t imagine the Holy Father forbidding the singing of Ave Maria set to Schubert’s tune since so much junk is being sung in church now. The Holy Father doesn’t like it, but he hasn’t forbidden it.

OK, thanks! I found it difficult to believe that Pope Benedict had explicitly spoken out against using this Ave Maria in the Mass, but couldn’t find anything confirming or denying it. The music director at my mom’s parish was up in arms about this alleged prohibition. Thanks for the info!

I believe it was sung at the Papal Mass at National’s Stadium in Washington D.C. last year.

This is all bogus rumor. I haven’t read anywhere (except here) that Pope Benedict has forbidden Schubert’s “Ave Maria” from being sung at Mass. And why on earth would he?? For those who don’t know Latin, the lyrics to “Ave Maria” are the “Hail Mary” prayer, which cannot get any more biblical and, thus, Catholic. The music, as another poster has written, was composed by Franz Schubert, a VERY devoted Catholic who composed many many pieces for Mass.

With all of the sacrilegious and trite little modern pop tunes that are echoing throughout “Catholic” churches these days, there’s no way that Pope Benedict would not allow Schubert’s “Ave Maria”. I do know that “Ave Maria” is not allowed to be sung in almost all protestant churches though…it’s way too Catholic!!! :thumbsup:

Kelly Clarkson sang the Celine Dion “Ave Maria” to the tune of Schubert’s Ave Maria.
The Celine Dion “Ave Maria” lyrics are more than the traditional prayer of the “Hail Mary.”

Ave maria
Maiden mild!
Oh, listen to a maiden’s prayer
For thou canst hear amid the wild
’this thou, ’this thou canst save amid despair
We slumber safely till the morrow
Though we’ve by man outcast reviled
Oh, maiden, see a maiden’s sorrow
Oh, mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave maria
Ave maria, gratia plena
Maria, gratia plena
Maria, gratia plena
Ave, ave dominus
Dominus tecum
The murky cavern’s air so heavy
Shall breathe of balm if thou hast smiled
Oh, maiden, hear a maiden pleadin’
Oh, mother, hear a suppliant child
Ave maria
Ave maria

Th elyrics printed abouve are most likely the original lyrics which come from Walter Scotts poem “Lady of the Lake”.

The Latin version of the Ave Maria is now so frequently used with Schubert’s melody, that it has led to the misconception that he originally wrote the melody as a setting for the Ave Maria. []()]

I didn’t know that.

Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” is not from an opera, nor is it considered an aria of any sort. Classical singing just doesn’t consist of opera which is always bigger than life since it is on stage. There are many kinds of classical singing. Opera is just one facet of it. To name a few, there is concert repertoire which consist of oratorios (religious or secular), cantatas, solo motets, etc. There is sacred classical singing, consisting of sacred motets, masses, litanies, and other classical sacred works. Then you also have the art of singing songs - art songs - which are just songs set to various text - religious or secular - and sung in the classical “style” of singing as was meant to be. Anyway, just wanted to give some background as most people don’t really know much about classical singing and the various facets of it. They assume everything is opera which gives a wrong impression.

The Schubert was originally an art song (aka lied which means “song”) set to religious text in German that was from Sir Walter’s Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake” (Ellen’s Song) - which was also a supplication to the Blessed Virgin. It is just as beautiful sung in the German and although I have never sung it in recital myself, I have heard it a few times where singers chose it as a recital piece in their set of Schubert songs. It’s really beautiful.

It was then set to the Latin “Ave Maria”. A problem with this setting is that most people do not sing the second half the “Half Mary”. They only sing the first half. I always tell my brides that they should request both “verses” in order to have the entire “Hail Mary” sung.

Here is the translated original text that Schubert set the music to. What was posted previously was not complete and not as accurate.

Ave, Maria! Maiden mild!
Oh listen to a maiden’s prayer;
For thou canst hear tho’ from the wild,
And Thou canst save amid despair.
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care
Tho’ banish’d outcast and reviled,
Oh, Maiden hear a maidens prayer.
Oh Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria!

Ave, Maria! Undefiled!
The flinty couch we now must share,
Shall seem with down of eider piled
If Thy, if Thy protection hover there.
The murky cavern’s heavy air
Shall breath of Balm if thou hast smiled;
Then, Maiden hear a maiden’s prayer.
Oh Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria!

Ave, Maria! Stainless-styled!
Foul demons of the earth and air,
From this their wonted haunt exiled,
Shall flee, shall flee before thy presence fair.
We bow us to our lot of care
Beneath Thy guidance reconciled,
Hear for a maid a maiden’s prayer;
And for a father bear a child!
Ave Maria!

I don’t know what the Pope’s preferences are, but knowing that he is a classical musician and does enjoy works by German and Austrian composers, I doubt he’d be against it.

I don’t know how true this is anymore. Almost every single Protestant wedding I’ve sung for in the last couple of years, the brides have all requested this version of “Ave Maria” and the pastors have approved it. Even a Baptist minister approved it, which I didn’t think would fly. And this is not something I suggest to the Protestant brides. They request it themselves. It’s the first thing they ask when the contact me, “Do you sing the ‘Ave Maria’?”

The protestant churches you’re referring to are definitely exceptions. I’ve been singing for weddings for 35+ years, and have sung Schubert’s “Ave Maria” hundreds and hundreds of times, but no matter how many times it’s been requested by a protestant bride and groom, it’s only been allowed by one protestant pastor, and only as an “early prelude” (basically, before anybody was in the church).

That being said, back in the early 80’s I was even told by a “Catholic” pastor that I couldn’t sing Schubert’s “Ave Maria” nor Franck’s “Panis Angelicus” for a Catholic funeral because “they weren’t Catholic songs”.

I would say that the ignorance of this “Catholic” priest who wouldn’t allow “Ave Maria”, and of the protestant pastors who do allow it are basically on the same level. They have no idea that the translation of the lyrics is the “Hail Mary” (I always do both verses so that the entire “Hail Mary” prayer is sung, whether it’s requested or not)…very Catholic and definitely not protestant.

I’ve heard of that before as well. Usually, in the circumstances I knew of, they were priests who were totally against anything that was “classical” in nature or having any kind of devotion to the Blessed Mother.

That might have been the case in prior decades. I wasn’t around 35 years ago and have only been doing weddings for almost 10 years, and like you almost every wedding I do requests mostly the Schubert, sometimes the Bach-Gounod. That’s why when I got married 5 years ago, I decided to go with a Gabriel Faure setting of the “Ave Maria”.

But actually I like to be clear with the pastors I’m working with so I always let them know what the translation is for all the music I sing, since most of the time I’m singing “Catholic” music from classical masses, etc. I know that every church has different requirements, so I like to be totally open and honest about what I’m doing in case it really goes against their own teachings. And, these pastors still approved the music. For some, as long as it was about God and because many of the words of the Hail Mary came from scripture, they approved it. This has only been within the last two or three years that I’ve experienced this. I was actually surprised by the change because a few years prior to these last couple of years, you would have never heard the “Ave Maria” in most Protestant churches. And it’s not just one particular denomination. This has been for various Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal and even that one Baptist wedding.

Also, if you go on wedding community websites, you’ll see that there are Protestant brides throughout the country are choosing “Ave Maria” for during their ceremonies and it’s being allowed. That’s why I think it might be changing. I don’t know why it is so, but I’ve seen a huge shift just over the last couple of years. It might be a regional thing as well. In my area, there is a very large Catholic population. Some Protestants are former Catholics and vice-versa, so these Protestant pastors might be more open to allowing certain practices in their churches now, which may still not be the case in an area which is predominantly Protestant. Also, knowing my born-again Christian relatives, it still wouldn’t be allowed in their church. But the more mainstream Protestant churches I’ve seen more of, most definitely.

Since I freelance a lot, I have to follow the rules of the priests at each church. Some priests don’t like to sit and wait during the presentation to the Blessed Mother, so they will actually get upset with the organist if he/she plays more than the first verse of the Schubert “Ave Maria” - UNLESS it is specifically requested by the bridal couple. I know it’s not even that long, but I do what I’m told. He’s the boss. That’s why I have to tell them to request it when I’m working with them. Some priests don’t care, so we can do both verses then.

This time last year I played at a Church of Ireland (Anglican) funeral. Towards the end of the ceremony the singer and I did the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria. I was quite surprised by that to begin with, but was even more taken aback when the minister requested that the congregation “stand for the ‘Ave Maria’”. Whether the hymn was requested for the prayer itself or merely for the music, I’m not sure - I suspected that it was more likely that it was for the music, though it was certainly strange that the people were asked to stand (by the way, the coffin was not being taken out of the church at this stage, so the people were not standing for that reason).

On a matter related to the original post (this is to church musicians especially), how far should we take this idea that since the music was not composed originally for the liturgy & even though the words may be suitable, such and such a piece should not be performed? I don’t recall having encountered such a difficulty myself. However, let’s say the music for Schubert’s Ave Maria had, in fact, been composed for an opera; should it automatically be rejected because of this, even though the prayer-words fit appropriately and the music itself is prayerful and meditative. Don’t get me wrong - I’m certainly not saying that one could take any pop-song from the radio and set a prayer with the music and thus it will become suitable for use in the liturgy. I’m just wondering if we can’t judge the music on it’s merits as a piece of music and likewise judge the words on their suitability as a prayer.

What I’ve found in some Anglican/Episcopal churches is that certain congregations have a sort of devotion to Mary. For instance, at an Episcopal church in my town, they actually have a weekly rosary group. The first time I walked by it, I didn’t know it was an Episcopal church. It had “St. -----“ then “Weekly Rosary Devotion – Tuesday 7:30 p.m.”. I thought it was a Catholic church at first because of that, but it looked too much like an Anglican/Episcopal church which tend to all have a similar architectural style in my area – very lovely, stone structures. When I went to the front door, there was another sign, and that is where it specified that it was an Episcopal Church. So, perhaps that particular congregation also has a devotion to Mary?

I think it really depends on the way the music is composed and how it has to be rendered itself. There were some pieces of music throughout the centuries which were originally composed for liturgy, but the way it had to be rendered really actually made it inappropriate for mass. For instance, Verdi’s “Requiem”. It is sometimes called his greatest “opera” even though it wasn’t an opera. But the way it was composed and how it has to be sung really does sound like a concert opera. It used to be played in liturgy and I believe it was played for Verdi’s own funeral at his request. During the mid to late 19th century and early 20th century (same time of Verdi), a lot of composers were writing liturgical music which sounded more like for an opera or theater than for liturgy. It was one of the reasons why in 1908 the Church had to crack down and reign the composers in. Much like what is happening today except with a different style and genre of music. So, this sort of thing isn’t new to the Church and its musicians.

Through history there have been many works in liturgy where the melody or style was taken from secular beginnings and then turned into something appropriate for liturgy. The composers had to REFINE the rendering or style, though, to make it acceptable for mass. Polyphony, for instance, had this beginning and many hymns also have this. Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, for example, which the choral work is originally from his 9th Symphony – a secular work. Composers have also taken secular melodies and incorporated them into sacred works like chorales and such, but they have been refined and changed that you wouldn’t recognize them as the original. These works have become so identified with the sacred and religious now, it has lost it’s connection with the secular.

But then in regards to your question with music that originated from an opera and if the words were changed to something sacred. Most operatic arias (especially ones composed in the 19th century) are composed to be sung in an opera house. They have to be larger than life when singing. It would be difficult to tone down the style for mass. For instance, there is an “Ave Maria” aria – Desdamona’s aria in Verdi’s “Otello”. Despite the fact that it is a prayer to the Virgin, the way it must be rendered, stylistically, you really can’t tone it down. It would not be appropriate for mass. Also, it would be recognized too much from the opera, so there is too much of a connection with the secular rather than the sacred. The same with the instrumental works of Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” from Lohengrin and Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Both are so linked with the secular aspect of an opera and ballet, you really can’t use these for any liturgy. Or, if someone took Rossini’s “Una voce poco fa” from his opera “The Barber of Seville” and set sacred text to it, it is still going to sound VERY MUCH like an operatic aria. Yes, it will be religious text, but it is such a well-known aria and has too much ornamentation and coloratura variations that you would never be able to separate the secular from it.

The Schubert, although a religious song originally, had no connection with an opera or ballet, etc. It, like many other hymns, have become so synonomous with the sacred now, that most people do not have any connection to the origins of it being a piece of lied.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that each piece of music needs to be taken at a case-by-case basis – even works that were originally composed for sacred use. If it cannot be refined so that it will not be associated with the secular and can be appropriate for mass, then it should not be used. For me, I’d rather err on the conservative side when deciding music. I’m speaking as a professional opera and classical singer, as well as a church musician. I have to know the difference between the two when in each realm.

Howard Goodall’s Psalm 23.


This could blow the thread off topic - The Vicar of Dibley, right?! Haven’t heard this setting in a liturgical context yet…I’m sure Goodall didn’t compose the setting for the BBC though (I could imagine them using it on Songs of Praise all the same). Of course his other famous opus is the theme for Mr Bean - heavenly music indeed; so much so that I’ve known many people to mistake it for Bruckner’s Locus Iste - the opening chord is the same, very warm and beautiful!

It is indeed the Vicar of Dibley theme, and it was in fact commissioned as the TV show theme. But Goodall intentionally wrote a work that would also stand as a liturgical piece. It’s very cleverly written - any half-reasonable choir and organist will easily sight-read it and sound great in one rehearsal.

It is in the repertoire of an Anglican choir I’m singing with at the moment and while we haven’t yet sung it in a liturgical setting, it is on several upcoming recital programmes and this choir makes a point of singing only sacred music, even for recitals.

Of course, on first hearing, everyone is going to say, “hey, isn’t that the theme from the Vicar of Dibley?”. Once they get over that, though, will they start hearing the “double life” the composer intended or will the Vicar of Dibley association hang over it forever? I don’t know. I suspect that the congregations and audiences of this Anglican choir will start to hear the music itself and forget about the TV association. Not sure I’d programme it for Mass anytime soon, all the same. :smiley:

Maybe he’s got it confused with the “Bridal Chorus” from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin? That’s the “here comes the bride” song. People frequently want to use it in their wedding, but it’s supposed to be prohibited because it’s not sacred music. Even the most liturgically whacked-out parishes I’ve attended wouldn’t allow its use.

Found this online. Probably this is what was banned.

Wedding March from Lohengren

  1. It is from an Opera (Strike One: Tra le solicitudini says this is a no-no)
  2. The context in which it appears in the opera is less than savory.
  3. It was prominently a part of the “Black List” for Catholic liturgy.

And then there’s this …It intertwines the musical themes of the bride (Elsa) and her lover (Lohengrin),whom she is thinking lustfully of whilst she is walking down the aisle to marry another man.

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