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?