Should parishes be singing antiphons at Mass? Antiphons are short scripture verses that are provided to be recited or sung to accompany certain parts of the Mass, in particular the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion. As with all liturgical questions, let’s turn to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Here’s what it says is permitted for the music for the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion:
In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant:
(1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another setting;
(2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time;
(3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms;
(4) 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.
- General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 48
Paragraphs 74 and 87 state that the above applies also for the Offertory and Communion chants. As you can see, most of the music we typically use in your average parish falls under the 4th option: “another liturgical chant”.
It Is Required to Sing the Antiphons?
I’ve heard some liturgical experts say that these options are in order of preference, in which case the first preference should always be to sing the antiphon from the Roman Missal or Graduale Romanum. Some even say that the other three options should be outside the norm, although the GIRM does not state this. There is a hierarchy to these options though, which is why they are listed in that order. Since the antiphon is given in the Missal itself, the antiphon is the most ideal text. We have the three other options though because music for the Mass is art, and art requires freedom. So the Church gives priests and music directors freedom in these four options so they can create beautiful art through their decisions in music, and hopefully through the art, people will recognize God the Creator and grow closer to Him.
So no, it’s not required to sing the antiphons, that’s why the Church gives options.
Should We Sing the Antiphons?
The antiphons in the Roman Missal and Graduale Romanum are the texts given by the Church herself for each particular liturgy, so I don’t think we should consider any other text more ideal than the antiphon. Yes, we should be free to serve our congregation with another song or hymn that will unite their hearts to Christ, but if there’s a way to use antiphons, why not? Keeping in mind you don’t have to… but if you can give your congregation the opportunity to pray these scripture verses in the Missal, I encourage you to go for it. When you chant the antiphons, you begin to see the rhythm of the liturgical year. You begin to identify certain text with certain liturgies, which enriches your liturgies as well as your personal devotion to scripture. If you decide to use antiphons though, be sure that your decision isn’t out of righteousness or pride, but out of a desire to uncover the Church’s wisdom, out of humility.
How to Sing the Antiphons
If your parish is used to only songs or hymns at the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion, it can be jarring to your congregation to introduce antiphons, so I encourage you to do so slowly. It can take a parish an entire three year liturgical cycle to get used to singing antiphons, so be patient. To start out, you could pick one antiphon to use over a liturgical season like Advent or Lent, so your congregation can get used to singing along, then when you change liturgical seasons, you can start to use the weekly antiphons for each particular liturgy.
I don’t recommend cutting out songs/hymns and replacing them with antiphons unless your congregation is ready, which could take years or even generations. I’ve seen parishes switch to antiphons only too quickly, and no matter the amount of catechesis, their parishioners still felt abandoned. The faith of your congregation is more important than being right when it comes to these options. Make changes relationally, for example introduce a communion antiphon, give it some time, then see how your congregation is doing. Keep adjusting the rate of your change according to your congregation, which is how you can make changes pastorally.
I recommend pairing the antiphon with a song/hymn. For example, for Communion, you can chant the Communion antiphon twice (once by a cantor and then invite the congregation and choir to join), then transition into your Communion hymn. In an effort to teach the congregation that the antiphons are not a political thing, but a prayer just as much as the Communion song, I chant the communion antiphon in the same or a similar key as our communion song with organ or a keys pad under it, and we keep the keys sustaining straight into our communion song. We even do this for our Entrance procession as well. To see how we do this, you can check out my church’s YouTube channel, where we post our Masses every weekend: St. Timothy’s YouTube Channel
Most publishers now have versions of the antiphons that you can use, the antiphon arrangements we use are available for free download at illuminarepublications.com. I really enjoy using these antiphons because they were arranged to be in the same mode as the Latin antiphons in the Graduale Romanum. For Masses like Christmas and Easter, we even do these English antiphons back-to-back with the Graduale Romanum antiphons, and it eases the intimidation of the Latin since we also sing the English translation.
Personally, in my personal prayer time, I know the Holy Spirit has encouraged me to chant antiphons, and I would like to pass on that encouragement. Anything outside of our paradigm can seem like a mountain to climb, but they’re a lot more simple than it seems. Just make sure that anything you do isn’t out of pride, but out of service for God and your congregation. If you ever need help learning how to chant the antiphons, feel free to reach out to myself (firstname.lastname@example.org) or check out my resources page.