Should We Sing the Antiphons?

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 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 ( or check out my resources page.

What Parts Should We Sing at Mass?


How much of the Mass we sing varies drastically from parish to parish, even from Mass to Mass.  We should sing as much as possible, since in singing we unite ourselves to the "primordial song of the liturgy," which is that of Christ's "victory over sin and death". (Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, 7).  We usually do not see the average Mass entirely sung though, because it can be difficult for priests and congregations to know and fully participate in singing everything.  So if we don't sing everything, what should we sing?  In other words, what parts of the Mass have a priority for us to sing over other parts of the Mass? "Instruction on Music in the Sacred Liturgy" (Musicam Sacram, 28) answers this by separating the parts of the Mass into three "degrees."  The first degree contains the most important parts of the Mass to be sung.  If you sing at all, it should be the first degree.  If you sing the parts of the Mass in the third degree, you should be singing the first and second degrees as well.  So what is the most important part of the Mass to sing?

The First Degree: The Order of the Mass

The following belong to the first degree:

(a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer.

(b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel.

(c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord's prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.

This is called the Order of the Mass, which consist of dialogues between the priest and the congregation. The first example given above is the simplest, which we know as, "The Lord be with you." "And with your spirit."  These chants can be found in the Roman Missal and on the ICEL website, and if your congregation isn't used to singing them, it's something that can be addressed with your pastor, since the priest/deacon leads these chants during the Mass.

Why are they so important?  Love needs to be expressed.  On a human level, love is communicated through our bodies and our voices.  It's difficult to maintain a relationship when love is not communicated.  When we participate in the dialogues at Mass, we enter into unity with the Church, who communicates with the priest standing in persona Christi (in the person of Christ).  The purpose of the Mass is for us to enter into Christ's work of redemption through the Cross and Resurrection, and the dialogues communicate our desire to enter into this relationship.  A great example of this is the Preface Dialogue:


The Second Degree: The Ordinary of the Mass

The following belong to the second degree:

(a) the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei;

(b) the Creed;

(c) the prayer of the faithful.

These texts are called the Ordinary of the Mass, since we use them every Mass (depending on the liturgical season, such as the Gloria).  What is most surprising on first glance is the Creed.  It is very rare to find a parish who sings the Creed, and although it might be difficult and take a long time to teach and master a sung arrangement of the Creed, it should be in the long term vision for music directors to introduce it in a pastoral manner.

The Third Degree: The Propers of the Mass

The following belong to the third degree:

(a) the songs at the Entrance and Communion processions;

(b) the songs after the Lesson or Epistle;

(c) the Alleluia before the Gospel;

(d) the song at the Offertory;

(e) the readings of Sacred Scripture, unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing.

As you can see, musicians preparing for the Liturgy typically spend the most time and energy on what's actually the least important to sing, which are called the Propers of the Mass.  Many times this leads us to only singing the parts of the Mass that are in the third degree.  If we understand the purpose of singing the Mass, and what parts of the Mass are most important, we can see how this demonstrates a disordered view of the Mass.

Musicians should still put in the time and energy in leading music that is excellent, beautiful, and most of all prayerful for the Entrance, Offertory, Communion, etc., but we should also be sure to sing the dialogues (Order of the Mass) and the Ordinary.  The more we can sing at Mass, the more we can express the nature of the Mass, where Christ calls us to enter into the song of His sacrifice to the Father, in anticipation of full communion with God in heaven.

For more on what we sing for Entrance, Offertory, and Communion, check out my post on Singing the Antiphons.

For further reading, check out Bishop Olmsted's article on "Singing the Mass"

Music and Liturgy


"[Good music] make[s] the liturgical prayers of the Christian community more alive and fervent so that everyone can praise and beseech the Triune God more powerfully, more intently and more effectively.” - Pope Pius XII, Musicae Sacrae Disciplina (On Sacred Music) (1955)

First of all, on behalf of Catholic liturgical musicians, I want to apologize. A lot of us don't know what we're doing sometimes. And that's probably why you either don't like certain types of music for Mass, especially contemporary worship, or you don't understand the importance of certain songs throughout the Liturgy... and you think that the cross-clap is a healthy spiritual practice. Both point back to one thing - lack of training and/or care towards liturgical music.

Lately, I've encountered a lot of people in discussing music for Mass, especially with the new Roman Missal translation. I've encountered many people throughout my life that think that you can just pick whatever music you want for any point in the Mass, for example, "Why can't we just play this other song in place of singing the Psalm?" Some people like this free-wheeling attitude, because it's "fresh" and "exciting." Others have criticized the use of certain types of very appropriate, liturgical, prayerful, Catholic music because it "isn't the way liturgical music should be." They think that it should only be one type of music, whether that be Gregorian chant or organ-led hymnody, because it's the way music for liturgy has always been.

What is common from both sides of criticism is a misunderstanding of the music's function in the Liturgy. If we're walking out of Mass on Sunday criticizing the music, we're missing the point. The music's role is to serve the Liturgy. It's not for entertainment or to make us feel good, and it's not to make us feel more holy than we are. It's to guide our hearts into prayer with God. That's all any music for the Mass, whether Gregorian chant or contemporary worship, should do. As a side note, I won't take away from the fact that our Church teaches that Gregorian chant is "specially suited for the Roman Liturgy." (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 116) Why though? Because it easily lifts the heart into prayer with God, regardless of who is "leading worship" or what songs are selected for the Liturgy. I'll admit, there are many who misuse their role in music ministry by turning it into a stage. Let's pray for those who do. It's been a problem throughout the Church's history. Let's remember though, that the Liturgy at one point didn't have guitars, pianos, organs, even Gregorian chant. What the Liturgy had though, was the Eucharist, and everything should point to that Sacrament. The next time we go to Mass, let's allow whatever music is played to guide our hearts into prayer.

"Our participation in the Liturgy is challenging. Sometimes, our voices do not correspond to the convictions of our hearts. At other times, we are distracted or preoccupied by the cares of the world. But Christ always invites us to enter into song, to rise above our own preoccupations, and to give our entire selves to the hymn of his Paschal Sacrifice for the honor and glory of the Most Blessed Trinity." - Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, 14

For those who select music for Mass, let's dive even deeper into what the Church teaches about music and the Liturgy. Let's read documents the Church has published, like "Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship" and "Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy)," and also read books like "The Spirit of the Liturgy" by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. In later blogs I will dive into the music specific to each part of the Liturgy. Our effort as Liturgical musicians will transform the way that our communities will be able to receive God in the Word and how much they allow the Eucharist to transform their lives.

Links to Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship