The Mass Propers, Singing the Antiphons
The Church gives us two different types of prayers in our Eucharistic liturgy, the Mass; the Mass Ordinary and the Mass Propers.
The Mass Ordinary includes the Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy), the Gloria, the Credo (Creed), the Sanctus and Benedictus (which is now one prayer combined, the Holy, Holy, Holy), and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). These texts do not change from Mass to Mass; they always remain the same. For this reason, they are familiar to every Catholic.
The Mass Propers are liturgical texts that vary from day to day according to the Liturgical Year: the Introit (Entrance Antiphon), the Gradual (what we now know as the Responsorial Psalm), the verse for the Gospel Acclamation, and the Communio (Communion Antiphon). The Entrance Antiphon and the Communion Antiphon are the texts that the Church hopes will guide our prayer on that particular day in the Liturgical Year.
Although parishes, including ours, sing other hymns and songs during the Entrance and during Communion processions, the liturgical texts of the Entrance Antiphon and the Communion Antiphon are the most proper or appropriate texts to be sung during these two processions. And although we have recently only selectively used antiphons at Sunday Masses, this tradition was never intended to be lost or to be ended after the Second Vatican Council. In fact, the tradition is very much alive at St. Gabriel weekday Masses.
Since the First Sunday of Advent, we have begun restoring the tradition of singing the Entrance and Communion Antiphons at each Sunday Mass. The texts are in the worship aid, and everyone will be invited to sing the Antiphons on a very simple, familiar psalm tone each week. (responding to the first line sung alone by the cantor). We will sing the Entrance Antiphon just before the Entrance Hymn, and the Communion Antiphon before the Communion Procession. We will still continue to sing the musical repertoire of the parish after we have sung these beautiful texts the Church has given us for each Sunday of the Liturgical Year.
The Season of Lent
We began our new liturgical year back on the last day of November, the beginning of Advent, and we celebrated the beautiful, but short season of Christmas, followed by eight Sundays in Ordinary Time. Now, we journey into the forty-plus-day season of Lent, in preparation for the greatest Solemnity in our Liturgical Year: Easter, the Resurrection of the Lord.
Everything about the season of Lent is more somber and austere than the rest of the Church year. Although Advent, too, is a penitential season of preparation for the great Solemnity of Christmas, Lent is yet more solemn, introspective, and penitential. The word ‘Lent’ means ‘springtime.’ Lent is a season of preparation for the catechumens who are to be baptized into the Catholic faith at Easter, and is a very important time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for all Catholics: a time to examine our hearts, our actions, and our lives…… a time to call ourselves and others to repentance. It is a time for us to spiritually ‘go into the desert’ to be with the Lord in prayer and fasting.
The Church gives liturgical directives for these forty days. The environment in the church is minimal and unadorned. Flowers are absent. We may only see a few simple reminders of the desert. The joyful shout of “Alleluia” is silenced in all singing. The Gloria is not sung (except on Feast Days), but the “Kyrie Eleison” is sung. We sing songs, hymns, and psalms of repentance. Our liturgical music is also minimal. Instruments are used only to accompany singing; there are no instrumental preludes, interludes, or postludes.
Psalm 91 is the assigned psalm for the Introit, or Entrance Antiphon, and the Communion Antiphon on the First Sunday of Lent, so we will be singing Psalm 91 during Communion today. “Parce Domine” will be sung at the beginning of Mass. It is an ancient antiphon, “Spare us, O Lord,” sung with the verses of Psalm 51, the great Psalm of David pleading for the Lord’s mercy. Psalm 51 is the most often sung (prayed) penitential psalm. It is prayed every Friday during Morning Prayer by all religious, priests, and laity who are faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours.
Because our sung prayer during Lent is simple and unadorned, the great “Alleluias” and music of Easter in turn become even more joyful and solemn. Our time of repentance and sacrifice is amply rewarded and blessed at Easter! May your Lent be prayerful and profound, and may the music we sing at Mass help your journey through the season.
Why do we sing in Latin?
For a variety of reasons, the use of Latin in the liturgy often gets people worked up: some think it is the only way to have Mass, and others believe it is a step back to the Stone Age. The truth, as always, lies in the middle. Latin is the official language of the Catholic Church and all official documents, letters, and prayers are recorded in this language before being translated for use around the world. Until the Second Vatican Council, the entire Mass was celebrated in Latin. After Vatican II, permission was given throughout the world to celebrate Mass in the local language (called the vernacular), but the Church always intended that people would still know how to pray parts of the Mass in Latin. Pope Benedict XVI makes this clear. “The intention of the Second Vatican Council was certainly to sing in the vernacular language of the people, but never to entirely replace the Latin Mass. The Church continues to revisit the intentions of the council, and understand the worldwide, communal and truly Catholic (and catholic) need for parishes to have a common repertoire of music. And the language of that music would be Latin.” Latin is our tradition, our Catholic heritage. It is our link to the universal Church. By singing Mass XVIII, we join our voices with those of Catholics around the world.