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O Sanctissima / Lord, dismiss us with your blessing

Tune name: Sicilian Mariners

Catholics use the tune “The Prayer of the Sicilian Mariners” for the hymn “O sanctissima,” which was first published in London in European Magazine in 1792.  It was given the Sicilian title possibly because Italian sailors of the time would invoke Mary as “Our Lady, Star of the Sea” to protect them at night, and, according to legend, this is one of the songs sung at the end of the day while at sea.  Whether the tune actually comes from Sicily is unknown, but the name has endured.  The hymn became quite popular, and even Beethoven wrote a setting for voices and piano trio in one of his collections of folk song arrangements.


O Sanctissima (translation of the Latin)

O most holy, o most loving,

sweet Virgin Mary!

Beloved Mother, undefiled,

pray, pray for us.


You are solace and refuge,

Virgin, Mother Mary.

Whatever we wish, we hope it through you;

pray, pray for us.


Look, we are weak and deeply deplorable;

save us, o Mary!

Take away our lassitude, heal our pains;

pray, pray for us.


Virgin, look at us, Mother, care for us;

hear us, o Mary!

You bring divine medicine;

pray, pray for us.


Throughout the English-speaking, Protestant world, playing this tune likely conjures visions of processions at the end of Sunday worship, as it is one of the more common “dismissal” hymns used by many denominations.  The text used most by Protestants is “Lord, dismiss us with your blessing” which was first published in 1835, and is attributed to John Fawcett, an English Baptist preacher.


Lord, dismiss us with your blessing

Lord, dismiss us with your blessing;

fill our hearts with joy and peace;

let us each, your love possessing

triumph in redeeming grace.

O refresh us, O refresh us,

trav’ling through this wilderness.


Thanks we give and adoration

for your gospel’s joyful sound:

may the fruits of your salvation

in our hearts and lives abound:

ever faithful, ever faithful

to the truth may we be found.


Of your love some gracious token

grant us, Lord, before we go;

bless your word which has been spoken,

life and peace on all bestow.

O direct us and protect us

in the paths we do not know.


So that when your love shall call us,

Savior, from the world away,

let no fear of death appall us,

glad your summons to obey:

may we ever, may we ever

reign with you in endless day.

“We Shall Overcome” is a song with a melodic contour similar to Sicilian Mariners often sung by American protestors, the first documented instance being the Charleston Cigar Factory Strike in 1945, led by Lucille Simmons.  It was first published as “We Will Overcome” in People’s Songs Bulletin, a publication of the group People’s Songs, which was directed by Pete Seeger. Seeger learned the song from one of Simmons’ friends, Zilphia Horton.  By the early 1960s it had become an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement and has been sung by numerous folk singers and protestors ever since.  Joan Baez and Bob Dylan are just two names that have come to be associated with this song, now known as “We Shall Overcome.”  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the words of the song in his final sermon on March 31, 1968; on April 9, 1968 over fifty thousand people sang it at his funeral.

We Shall Overcome

We shall overcome, we shall overcome,

We shall overcome some day.

Deep in my heart, I do believe

We shall overcome some day.

Further listening and viewing:  Beethoven’s arrangement of “O Sanctissima” sung by Janice Watson, Ruby Philogene, and Sir Thomas Allen.  Krysia Osostowicz, violin; Ursula Smith, violoncello; Malcolm Martineau, piano.  “Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing” from St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City, home of the largest pipe organ in New York.  “We Shall Overcome” sung by Mahalia Jackson on the album “Let’s Pray Together” from 1964.  Ms. Jackson sang “Precious Lord” at MLK’s funeral.