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January 25, 2024

What are antiphons? A guide to incorporating antiphons into the Mass


Though antiphons are a standard part of the Catholic liturgy included in the Mass Propers, many parishes aren’t familiar with them. Let’s explore what antiphons are, how they are included in the Mass, and how they can be incorporated into Catholic music ministries through some beautiful arrangements and resources. If you don’t already include them, antiphons are a wonderful addition to any Catholic music ministry.

What are antiphons?

Antiphons consist of psalm verses or brief sentences usually from scripture that help us to better understand the liturgical moment and/or readings they accompany in Mass or in the Liturgy of the Hours. They get their name from the way they were originally sung: “antiphonally,” as alternating chant by multiple choirs in a call-and-response arrangement. This is now perhaps most common in monasteries, where you will hear multiple choirs sing or recite antiphons as a refrain before and after each psalm and the Magnificat during morning and evening prayer.

How are antiphons featured in the Mass?

In the Mass, there are three antiphons that accompany three liturgical actions: the Entrance Antiphon, Offertory Antiphon and Communion Antiphon. If your parish doesn’t typically include these antiphons, you may be wondering how you’ve missed them.

Most likely, your parish opts to use a hymn or song in place of the antiphons. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (or GIRM), dioceses in the United States have four options for the chant (or song) that accompanies the Entrance, Offertory and Communion rites:

  • The antiphon from the Roman Missal or the antiphon and psalm from the Roman Gradual (Graduale Romanum)
  • The antiphon and psalm of the Simple Gradual (Graduale Simplex)
  • A chant/song from another approved collection of psalms and antiphons
  • An approved, suitable liturgical chant/song

It’s so common to choose the fourth option and simply use a suitable song, that many music ministers are unfamiliar with antiphons and might not know how to use them. But there are many benefits to incorporating antiphons, as evidenced by the GIRM including them in three out of the four options for these moments in the liturgy!

Why should we include antiphons in the Mass?

The GIRM states that the purpose of the Entrance Antiphon “is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers” (GIRM, 47).

And the purpose of the Communion Antiphon “is to express the communicants’ union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the ‘communitarian’ nature of the procession to receive Communion” (GIRM, 86).

By using the proper texts of the antiphons, either on their own or in combination with a hymn, you can be assured that you will turn the thoughts of your assembly to the mystery of the liturgical moment because these ancient texts were designed to do just that! And you will certainly be expressing the communitarian nature of the Eucharist when you use a proper text shared by the entire universal Church.

The antiphons are also extremely versatile. When used alone, they are short enough to be combined with a song. Begin with a gathering hymn during the Entrance Procession, then use the Entrance Antiphon to facilitate a moment of reflection and focus while the priest incenses the altar. Or begin with the Communion Antiphon while your priest receives communion and transition to a communion processional song while your assembly receives. With many arrangements, you can repeat the antiphons to fill a moment or include the antiphon and psalm to take the place of a longer song.

Why should we sing the antiphons?

The antiphons can simply be recited, but the Entrance and Communion antiphons especially are meant to be sung. As the GIRM specifies, you can use the Latin Gregorian chant arrangements of the antiphons found in the Roman Gradual, also known as the “sung propers.” Many parishes prefer to use arrangements of the English-language antiphon texts from the Roman Missal. While these were originally designed for spoken Masses and are known as the “spoken propers,” they can also be sung. And there are many beautiful arrangements of the English antiphons in a range of styles for all kinds of music ministries.

Since the antiphons are the same every year and don’t change with the lectionary cycle, an antiphon music resource is a great investment for music ministries looking to expand their repertoires. Let’s talk about some of the resources OCP offers for these wonderful texts!

Antiphon music resources

OCP offers a diverse range of music resources that make it easy to add antiphons into your celebrations throughout the year. Whether your parish prefers traditional, mainstream or more contemporary music, there is a resource suited to your ministry.

If you have a traditional Catholic music ministry, you should consider St. Meinrad Entrance and Communion Antiphons for the Church Year. Featuring chants composed by Benedictine Fr. Columba Kelly, each volume of this resource includes the antiphons with verses and a simple congregational refrain, making their use very versatile amongst a choir, cantor and assembly. The melodies of the St. Meinrad antiphons are inspired by the Latin Gregorian chants in the Roman Gradual, reimagined for the English-language texts from the Roman Missal. They are a wonderful way to introduce your choir, cantor and assembly to chant. The refrains are so simple and easy that many parishioners won’t even need the music in front of them to participate.

If your parish prefers mainstream liturgical music, you should consider composer Christopher Walker’s Entrance Antiphons for SATB Choir and Communion Antiphons for SATB Choir. As the titles imply, these resources are specifically designed for choirs. With a lot of stylistic diversity, difficulty levels and options to choose from, this is a great resource for all kinds of choirs, and choirs with room to grow. It’s also very affordable, making it another great option for expanding your choir’s repertoire for the whole Church year on a budget.

If your music ministry features a lot of contemporary or modern liturgical music, you should consider Let Us All Rejoice. A collaboration between the popular songwriters Steve Angrisano, Sarah Hart and Curtis Stephan, Let Us All Rejoice offers modern musical settings for the Entrance and Communion antiphons with assembly participation in mind. The settings are simple and accessible, highlighting the text and ensuring any parishioner can sing along, even without music in front of them.

And finally, for any parish that has a Spanish-language or bilingual music ministry: OCP has designed an amazing new digital resource with Spanish-language antiphons for the whole year: Antífonas de Entrada y de la Comunión. Organized by calendar, this resource provides everything you could possibly need to incorporate the antiphons into a Spanish-language music ministry in a 12-month subscription. Beautiful arrangements of the Spanish-language antiphon texts from the Misal Romano are available to download as PDFs and MP3s. There are also videos introducing the antiphons created by the talented OCP composers responsible for the music. You can play through the score on a dynamic music player – and even change the key!

Learn more about OCP’s resources for antiphons and order resources for your parish here.

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