Unnecessary Impoverishments: The Psalter/Part 2 (The Entrance Rite)

Last month’s celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross brought a story about the proper entrance antiphons to mind.

One summer I was a second-tier speaker/presenter at a smaller-scale liturgy and music conference. That meant I got to attend the major talks for free, which appeals both to my inner liturgy geek AND cheapskate. I was particularly intrigued to see that one of the main speakers was going to offer a talk on the proper entrance antiphons.

He began his talk with a recollection of the previous year, when the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was on a Sunday and so had replaced a Sunday of Ordinary Time. He’d been the “supply” presider at an early Sunday morning Mass. That morning it was raining, and so the organist (who was not the full-time parish music director) changed the entrance hymn to “Morning Has Broken” (presumably for the line “sweet the rain’s new fall”).

His thesis: if it had been the practice of the parish always to use the proper entrance antiphon (that day it was “We should glory in the cross” Galatians 6:14), this disaster could have been averted. Having experienced this speaker on other occasions, I knew that no time for questions would be allowed for, but I had some nonetheless:

1. What was the hymn or song that the music director had chosen? If it had been, for example, “Lift High the Cross” then pretty much the same purpose would have been served. (Though the proper entrance antiphon could have encouraged a musical connection to Holy Thursday.)
2. If it had been the practice of the parish never to replace anything the music director selected, wouldn’t the disaster also have been averted?

A main point of his talk was that the use of the proper entrance antiphon would always unify and connect with the rest of the liturgy. When I got home, I checked with the Sacramentary and Lectionary to see what would happen the following Sunday. There really wasn’t, as I recall, all that much of a connection. So this year I did the same experiment for 2017, and checked the Missal and Lectionary for the Sunday after September 14 (Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A).

The proper entrance antiphon (both Missal and Graduale Romanum):
Give peace, O Lord, to those who wait for you, that your prophets be found true. Hear the prayers of your servant, and of your people Israel. (Cf. Sirach 36:18);
its psalm verse: (Graduale Romanum): I was glad when they said to me: let us go to the house of the Lord. (Psalm 122:1).

The readings and responsorial psalm for the day:
Sirach 27 (Wrath and anger are hateful, yet sinners hold them tight.)
Psalm 103 (Refrain: The Lord is kind and merciful.)
Romans 14 (None of us lives for oneself.)
Matthew 18 (How often must I forgive?)

In 2017, as was the case years ago, I didn’t find a very strong connection or relationship between the antiphon, psalm verse, and Lectionary readings, aside from the antiphon and first reading both being from Sirach (the antiphon indirectly). Since the entrance antiphon remains the same for all three years of the Lectionary’s Sunday cycle, a correlation or relationship between it and all twelve Lectionary readings/psalms would be quite unlikely. (Historians who study the post-conciliar era know that the inadequate work in correlating the Lectionary and Graduals is the main culprit here.)

In particular, I didn’t find the sort of left-brain type of connection or “theme” between the antiphon/verse and the Lectionary readings and psalm that has mostly ruled the day for the past generation. I found myself thinking that a well-selected hymn about forgiveness (“Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive” or “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”) would have done the job better. The Roman rite hasn’t ever been a sola scriptura tradition. We have remained open to the Spirit’s movement and voice in other ways and other places, as I pointed out in my Pray Tell post on hymnody.

That being said, we always overlook scripture at our own peril. Perhaps it would be to our benefit to be informed by the texts of the entrance antiphons and their psalms as well as those of the Lectionary when doing our music planning, and realize we don’t always have to be driven only by the Lectionary texts (and within them, not only by the Gospel—we’re not a evangelium solus/gospel alone tradition either; it’s another unnecessary impoverishment to overlook the prophetic writings and apostolic letters). When we always cover over the proper texts we may be shutting the lid on the treasures of the scriptures (see CSL #51). I, for one, would happily advocate for the more-frequent congregational singing of Psalm 122:1 (“I rejoiced when they said to me…”) during the Entrance Rite.

This model of being informed by the antiphons and their psalm verses for music selection could, I believe, also allow us to inhabit a freer (more left-brained, if you will) place of allowing the liturgy and its texts to work on us over time, and perhaps give the Spirit a bit more space to fly freely.

Next up—unnecessary impoverishments: The Psalter/Part 3; Communion antiphons.

(Part 1—with an explanation of the term “unnecessary impoverishment” as I learned it from Fr. Lucien Deiss—which focused on the responsorial psalm, may be found here.)


  1. I’d like to also add that a healthy curiosity about the Bible is super useful. For the psalms, an awareness of the three main genres plus some repeated themes: songs of trust, royal psalms, songs of Ascents, etc.–this helps people who program psalms to make useful substitutions based on known repertoire. Quite often, the analysis that informs us whether a psalm is a lament, a hymn, a thanksgiving, etc., might even be applied to hymns and songs, especially the ones based on Scripture.

  2. Last spring I started getting people to chant the Introit, using the text in the Missal, with the appropriate psalm verse (from the Graduale) at the Sunday morning Mass, after the first hymn.

    I am using simple modal melodies based on the antiphons in the Psalterium Monasticum. I often split the text up where it is lengthy to allow part of it to be used as a shorter response. I’m finding that with the limited number of melodic formulae, and using the occasional hymn melody where they are adaptable to the words in the Missal, we are having to rehearse these less before Mass. We have no choir, so I can’t use the Ainslie collection (which I like a lot), but should we be able to get a few singers to use it, that would be a good second step.

    We have evolved a sequence of starts for the Mass, which involve the recitation of the Angelus, then we are asked to stand (more communal than sitting) in silence together for a minute to focus ourselves as a congregation, then the hymn is sung. When I reach the altar step, I stand in front of it and lead the Introit.


  3. The last parish Mass I attended with a chanted entrance antiphon had two people singing: the cantor who seemed hesitant and nervous, and the organist who seemed enthusiastic. Everyone else in the room stood in silence, a few of them staring at the order of worship in their hands.

    1. Scott – it’s not difficult to imagine that. I suppose the underlying truth here is that the Roman Missal is meant for many different cultures, settings, community sizes, situations, motivations, etc. Our large suburban parish, with its worshipers who come and go and its history of singing contemporary compositions, would struggle as you describe. Other faith communities may be more stable and “manageable” and have greater success with chant.

  4. In my study of the Antiphon/Psalm tradition it appears that their use was more driven by function (ability to lengthen or shorten) rather than by textual correlation. Therefore, following the example of antiphonal style singing at the Entrance Rite and Communion Rite makes perfect sense. But forcing a prescribed Missal text into this form does not.

  5. I can only think if I had been in this workshop I would have imagined a peppy procession of pagans being led into the fires of hell singing “Morning Has Broken.” While the pure souls sing the legitimate introit… probably not smiling though. (Billy Joel lyrics come to mind!)

    I am actually intrigued that the line in “Morning Has Broken” about God’s “recreation” expresses the ultimate goal of the cross… the redemption of humankind, our recreation. Probably wasn’t in the mind of the organist when they picked it, but who knows!

    Loved your comment about “evangelism solus.” One of the greatest courses I ever took was by Sr. Irene Nowell, looking at the lectionary through the lens of the First Reading. For example this upcoming weekend… the Isaiah pericope about the “holy mountain” really puts a different perspective on the Matthew wedding feast gospel. There’s so much material to work with every week… we tend to limit ourselves and our assemblies when we don’t look through multiple lenses.

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