The Catholic News (CN) will be featuring some of our Catholic composers of hymns, and songs of praise and worship to find out how their creations were inspired. CN hopes this will generate awareness of the persons contributing to the liturgy and providing form to our many expressions of fidelity, love, thanks, gratitude to God.
In the month of May, Marian hymns will be sung more regularly, and you will likely hear one which begins with a resounding “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices….”
These words from ‘The Magnificat’ are the opening lines of Norbert Farrell’s ‘Litany of Blessed Virgin Mary’ composed in the 1970s.
He also composed another song which is still heard today, ‘Let us enter into covenant with Christ’.
He told the Catholic News April 21, “My interest in composing songs began since I was very young and I had composed many Calypsoes and other songs, some of which were never heard. My interest in Gospel music began when I started attending Mass at Mt St Benedict.”
It was on the Mount that he met Bro Paschal Jordan OSB, a composer and musician like himself.
Farrell found Bro Paschal to be friendly and congenial. When he began composing songs for church, he took them to Bro Paschal to score the music. Farrell said Archbishop Anthony Pantin CSSp was very interested in local Gospel compositions for church worship. “He saw the need for young composers as myself to have their songs done in church worship.”
Farrell calls the late Archbishop a visionary, “a blessed and very humble human being”. Under Archbishop Pantin, Bro Paschal and Fr Garfield Rochard produced and published the first Caribbean hymnal in 1980. Farrell always remembers them in prayer.
Farrell was born March 21, 1943, in Grenville, St Andrew’s, Grenada. He was baptised Catholic and lived next to and attended Mass at an “old Catholic church” in Grenville.
As a boy, the Litany was recited after the Rosary in church or at prayer meetings. “When I was young, I was hearing it, I would hear it, my mother, my aunts and them, all the people around, the neighbours…get together and say the rosary.”
Farrell has been living in Trinidad since 1961 and as he got older, he missed hearing the Litany. “You have to go to a prayer meeting or some kind of thing to hear it; you not hearing it. So, I said…better I put some music into it. I love it!” Farrell said with enthusiasm.
He picked up his guitar and came up with a few chords. “Even though you just learning to play the guitar you can play that…it is the key of C major, then you go to the key of E, then you go to an A minor and then you come back from G to C, G to C…”
He added, “I thought I would compose something that would be very likeable, the people would like and would arouse their interest.”
Farrell quoted the Litany dedicated to Mary: ‘Mirror of Justice’, ‘Seat of Wisdom’, ‘Spiritual Vessel’, ‘Mystical Rose’ etc. Farrell said these “are powerful words”.
He said the words used are “traditional, which means we already know it, because it was already composed in the prayer book from many, many years ago”.
Farrell included scripture, Luke 1: 46–47 in his song to capture the voice of the Blessed Virgin Mother giving praise and thanks to God. “I took those words, and I created a melody that I think would be suitable for people who want to sing it because the Litany should be something that we should be saying every day.”
Farrell has noticed the Litany is more often sung than recited. “They not saying it, they singing it, and that is the same reason why I composed that melody for it, a very simple melody and very sweet.”
Farrell said the Litany is a prayer of consolation, comfort, peace and so many other virtues which can be experienced praying or singing it. “And so, I have created a very likeable melody for those who would prefer to sing it. Jesus, in the person of the Holy Spirit is always present whenever the Litany is done and His blessed mother is saying to you today, do whatever He tells you! Amen”.
Litany of Blessed Virgin Mary
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices (twice)
Most Holy Mary, pray for us
Mother of God, pray for us
Virgin of Virgins, pray for us
Mother of Christ, pray for us
Mother of Divine grace, pry for us
Mother of our Saviour, pray for us
Virgin most pure, pray for us
Virgin most faithful, pray for us
Virgin most prudent, pray for us
Mirror of justice, pray for us
Seat of wisdom, pray for us
Spiritual vessel, pray for us
Mystical Rose, pray for us
Tower of David, pray for us
House of Gold, pray for us
Ark of the Covenant, pray for us
Gate of Heaven, pray for us
Morning Star, pray for us
Refuge of Sinners, pray for us
Help of Christians, pray for us
Queen of Heaven, pray for us
Queen of angels, pray for us
Queen of saints, pray for us
Queen of the Rosary, pray for us
Queen of peace, pray for us
Queen of prophets, pray for us
Queen of patriarchs, pray for us
Mary, Mother, pray for us
Mary, Mother, pray for us