Sep 17, 2017

Rite Questions

Q: Is using both a hymn and antiphon together, at the entrance, offertory, or communion processions, an appropriate liturgical and musical option? 

A: Strictly speaking, the rubrics found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) 48, 74 and 87 only envision that a single musical piece is to be sung during the entrance, offertory and communion processions. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for what may be sung:  

  • the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum 
  • The antiphon and psalm of the Graduale Simplex 
  • A chant from another collection of psalms and antiphons. 
  • Another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the conference of bishops or the diocesan bishop.i 

This order of options reflects the priorities given in Sacrosanctum ConciliumMusicam Sacram, and the GIRM, namely that Gregorian chant should be given the main place in the liturgy.ii The normal form of the sung liturgy is found in the Church’s liturgical books, although a parish’s pastoral circumstances or available resources might require it to employ other options lower on the list for legitimate reasons. 

Many parishes over the past decade, however, have had great success in introducing the processional antiphons of the Mass in conjunction with a hymn. This method allows for the introduction of the sung antiphons without necessarily “taking away” the hymns that many of our parishioners know and love.  

This practice is not without precedent. The extraordinary form High Mass requires that the proper antiphons be sung in Latin, either in their Gregorian chant settings found in the Graduale Romanum or set to a simple psalm tone or in polyphony. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, it was customary during the entrance for some music—whether an organ processional or motet—to accompany the ministers to the prayers at the foot of the altar, at which time the Entrance Antiphon would begin. Similarly, at the offertory, it was customary for the choir to sing the Offertory Antiphon once, without any verses, followed by a Latin hymn or motet. At communion, the choir similarly sang the prescribed antiphon only once, without any verses, and then proceeded to a motet or hymn, or both, during the remainder of the Communion procession. The pre-conciliar books did not make provision for the singing of verses with the Offertory and Communion Antiphons until 1958, and so it was practically necessary for something else to be sung in order to cover lengthy processions.iii  

And so, the hybrid hymn-antiphon model during the Mass processions follows established conventions, even though it is clear that the Missal of Paul VI favors processions accompanied only by the antiphons and psalms found in the liturgical books themselves. Further, nothing prohibits a parish from singing a hymn before Mass begins (i.e., prior to the procession) or after Mass ends (after the dismissal). The GIRM provides for a hymn of praise that can follow the communion procession, and says nothing about adding additional music if a procession becomes particularly lengthy.  

While exemplary liturgies—such as cathedral celebrations, and perhaps a parish’s principal Sunday Mass—might model the normal form where the processional antiphons alone are sung, the practice of pairing antiphons with hymns or other instrumental music, especially as a transitional measure, is on solid ground from the standpoint of tradition, legislation, and sound pastoral practice alike. 

1 These options vary from conference to conference, but in general, the options essentially follow an order beginning with the Graduale Romanum, followed by the Graduale Simplex, and then some other approved antiphon and psalm.

2 See GIRM 41.

3 See De Musica Sacra et Sacra Liturgia no. 27.

Adam Bartlett

Adam Bartlett is the founder and CEO of Source & Summit. He is the composer and editor of Simple English Propers (CMAA, 2011), editor of the Lumen Christi series (Illuminare Publications, 2012-2016), and is the editor and publisher of the Source & Summit Missal and Digital Platform. He formerly served as a parish and cathedral music director, as a faculty member for the Liturgical Institute and Mundelein Seminary of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, as an adjunct faculty member for the Augustine Institute, and as a sacred music consultant for FOCUS. He lives in Grand Rapids, MI, with his wife and three children.