What About Those Antiphons?

There was a collective “Huh?” from bishops and bloggers this week when Bishop Trautman asked about those pesky antiphons. Indeed, they were on ICEL’s original implementation chart. Perhaps the reform2 crew was feeling a little whiplash on this one, but the true liturgy geeks have known for months these little songs were off the bishops’ agenda.

I use the antiphon texts to guide my music choices for hymns and songs–done that for years. But I’m a skeptic when it comes to singing them. Why? It strikes me as one of the worst practices of the immediate post-conciliar Church to introduce a new song or four every week. We don’t need to go back to the practices of uninformed folk groups singing cool new songs and leaving the congregation far behind. I don’t think the bishops losing the antiphon texts is a big deal liturgically. The politics of the Vatican, however: that’s another story. My suspicion is that there was too much input early on from the bishops and too little rubber-stamping. It would have delayed Roman Missal 3 in English too long to do the process as originally outlined. Plus all those complaints about this word and that word, this bad piece of grammar, and that. The antiphons were pulled for two reasons, likely: expediency and petulance.

That said, let’s ponder some possibilities. This weekend, we have an entrance antiphon in the Missal from Psalm 85:

The Lord speaks of peace to his holy people, to those who turn to him with all their heart.

A reminder that the antiphons given in the Roman Missal are often paraphrases of the Scriptures. The slavish translators among you might well wonder where the heck the heart comes from. The above antiphon quotes verse 9. This is how the NAB Biblical text reads:

(S)urely the LORD will proclaim peace to his people, to the faithful, to those who trust in him.

Two Communion antiphons are given this Sunday:

All you nations, praise the Lord, for steadfast is his kindly mercy to us. (Psalm 117:1-2)

I, the Lord, am with you always, until the end of the world. (Matthew 28:20)

Once the reform2 folks have navigated the Voice of God in that second text, let’s consider how to use these passages to plan music. The first thing I notice is that the entrance antiphon quotes an Advent common psalm. You might think that’s a strange thing, but consider these last three weeks of Ordinary Time are steeped in End Time prophecy. The most notable link between the end of Ordinary Time and the beginning of Advent is in the switch from cycle C to A when Psalm 122 is used in those consecutive weeks of Christ the King and Advent’s first Sunday. Planning Christ the King and the rest of November’s music with an eye to Advent is a good thing.

We have in Psalm 85 a lament of the people, not an individual appeal to God. Respectively, the communion antiphons are the shortest psalm, an act of praise, and a quote from Christ’s Great Commission. Planners should note that the liturgy begins with a lament, but by Communion time, we’re actively praising God, and receiving a message of consolation and encouragement from the Lord. Rather than slavishly look for texts of Psalm 85 or 117 (which, of course, you can do) an astute liturgy planner would consider what is communicated by these Scriptures. I look at the context, not just the single verses I’m given. I also consider the mood of these Bible passages.

If I hadn’t already used it three times this fall, I might have considered Jeffrey Rowthorn’s hymn, “Lord, You Give The Great Commission.” The feast suggests songs centering on Christ, but a little bit of the Trinity is always good. As it happens, I pretty much stuck to the tried-and-true this weekend: songs about Jesus.

If I were directing music at a monastery or an artistic-minded intentional community, I might try something different for entrance. Being a national lament, Psalm 85 would do well in the people’s voice. All of it. Maybe I would have the choir sing a plainsong setting of the antiphon (English or Latin: you pick) twice. In between, it would be neat to have the congregation chant the entire text of Psalm 85. A tricky liturgist might be tempted to sing just the second half, verses 9 through 14, knowing it’s a natural break in the text. But I think the lament quality of the first eight verses is important. It exposes the reason why Christ is our King, and how important is our neediness before God.

The Communion stuff is easy. Notice that this weekend’s liturgy of the word psalm is the 93rd, one of the royal songs of praise from the “late 90′s” of the Psalter. For Communion, I might use the text of Psalm 97 (it gets used less often than 96 or 98) with the Jesus quote of antiphon 2. I would, however, leave the VoG antiphon in the people’s voice. If for no other reason than to emphasize that there’s nothing wrong with singing the Voice of God: the Roman Missal dishes it out often enough.

Having the assembly chant the psalm verses in alternation with the choir singing the antiphon is a useful practice. For those who might insist on singing the proper antiphon every week, it is the easiest way to ensure the active (meaning external as well as internal) participation of the assembly in the entrance chant.

So … doing any good music this weekend? Any thoughts on bishops and the antiphons?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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6 Responses to What About Those Antiphons?

  1. Andy says:

    World Library Publications has a wonderful resources known as Introit Hymns. It is by Christoph Tietze, and since my parish uses printed worship aids and purchases copyright permissions from publishers, I use these as often as possible.

    The Introit Hymns are English adaptations of the Entrance Antiphons set to popular hymn tunes. This weekend, it’s “Dignus et Agnus,” set to DUKE STREET, or “I Know that my Redeemer Lives.”

    I’ve also been using the Communion Antiphons as much as possible through some composition of my own. I’ve been adapting the translations in the Sacramentary and writing musical settings in responsorial format. That way, the cantor sings the verses (as suggested in the gradual) to a Meinrad tone, and alternates the antiphon with the congregation.

    Those are two ways that I know, first hand, that are effective in using the proper texts of the Mass every single week.

  2. Liam says:

    To my mind, the antiphons should not be strangers in our parishes (though they need not dominate parish music programming), by which I mean we should strive to reach a point where parishioners would find the chanted antiphons (whether in vernacular or Latin) not strange but reasonably familiar.

    For example, if every other week, the congregation encountered either the introit, offertory or communion chant (rotate the placement), it would not have the effect you fear but I think it would have the effect the Council fathers were envisioning.

  3. Jono says:

    The antiphons in the Missal itself are not always necessarily those in the Roman Gradual (one of the Church’s two official “hymnals,” if you want to call it that). Rather, the antiphons in the Roman missal are intended to be recited when the text from the Roman Gradual or the Simple Gradual is not sung. 2/3 of the time, the text of the antiphons in the Roman Missal are the same as those in the Roman Gradual. The NT texts are not in Roman Gradual (this would include the particular Voice of God statement which you cite, though I profess ignorance as to whether there are other Voice of God statements from the psalms in the Roman Gradual).

    This is not to say that your use of these antiphons for assisting in choosing hymns is not laudable. Rather, if you might have difficulty finding a suitable hymn based on your current method, you could use the text from the Roman Gradual as a guide.

    Further, there is a guide for the offertory chant provided in the Roman Gradual lacking in the Roman Missal (where, during a spoken Mass, the offertory prayers are presumed to be spoken, thus removing the musical “cover” of the Offertory in the New Rite).

  4. Todd says:

    Thanks for the comments here. I’m not sure the Council bishops, even those with a strong grounding in liturgy, we completely aware of the potential distinction between a daily worshiping community and a Sunday one, however intentional/advanced/music the latter might be.

    My “fear” would really be a concern. A concern that a musical repertoire variable and non-repetitive from Sunday to Sunday would be, at best, a stretch for the expectations of the average good Catholic parish. Songs and some hymns based on Scripture: I think this is a better model.

    Jono, I’ve never bought the reasoning about the expectation to “recite” the Missal antiphons. I read the GIRM and the Ordo Missae. The songs are expected to be sung.

    I didn’t mention in my post (but I have elsewhere) that the St Louis Jesuits were far ahead of their time not only for the Scripture-based texts of nearly all of their songs (especially the early ones) but also the antiphon-plus-verses alternating format. It rather explodes the meme that everything and everyone who came after the council were untutored in tradition and in the Roman Rite.

  5. Liam says:

    I think that concern is overstated and that your model need not clash unduly with the vision of the council fathers and liturgical reformers who provided for the retention of the antiphons and chant as the basic model for Catholic liturgical music. For the people to be a stranger to that betrays the reform and cuts them off from their musical birthright. I know of no other tradition of musical worship that seeks to do so as a matter of policy.

    I remember the days of the 1960s where we had the same music (repetitive and non-variable) every Sunday of every month (shifted for Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter). They were dreadful.

  6. Todd says:

    If the people are singing the SLJ antiphons (or other contemporary settings of psalmody), I think it’s a stretch to say they are strangers to the style, structure, or intent of the Council bishops. If a parish chose this weekend, for example, to sing Marty Haugen’s “Lord Let Us See Your Kindness,” which incorporates the entrance antiphon in one of its verses, I’d say the proper is being used.

    I don’t see that the assigned antiphonal texts are necessarily an improvement over carefully planned, Scripture and liturgy-based music. That, I believe, would be in keeping with a Roman understanding of the emphasis on Mass propers.

    I don’t see my approach to be at all at odds with the stated ideals of the Roman Rite. For a Sunday community in many parishes, I find a stable and reliable repertoire has netted long-term good results in parishes.

    That said, I don’t see antiphonal or responsorial singing of the Proper texts to be at odds with my approach, either.

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