INTROITUS: Palm Sunday

Hosanna filio David: benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini, Rex Israel: Hosanna in excelsis.

“Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed who comes in the name of the Lord, King of Israel. Hosanna in the highest.” (Matt 21:9)

Click here to listen to an audio recording of the chant.
Sung by Liborius Lumma, Innsbruck (Austria).

The solemnly celebrated Eucharist on Palm Sunday begins with a procession and the Gospel of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. Hence there is no regular introit on this day, but several antiphons and psalms in this first part of the liturgy. The chant above is the very first of these antiphons.

With the people of Jerusalem – as narrated in the Gospel – we greet Jesus as the Son of David and praise his coming. We should not forget that Jesus did not fulfill the people’s expectations and ended on the cross, delivered by the same people. – How about our own expectations? And how do we react when God does not give us what we are asking for?

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini has become a part of the Sanctus which we Western Christians associate only with the Eucharistic celebration, but some Eastern traditions (e.g. the Copts) use the Sanctus in other liturgies too.

One little hint for those who actually sing this antiphon: When you sing David you can stress the final syllable, as the melody clearly implies. We can be quite sure that the Latin pronunciation of many Old Testament names stresses the final syllable, like in Hebrew. Only when it comes to often used names like Jesus, Maria, or in our case, Israel (in the second line), the pronunciation can differ.

10 comments

  1. I’ve sung this one — in English! It was in the Worship hymnal. (I am not sure if it is in the latest edition.) Very much a signature of Palm Sunday for me, especially since I do not much care for All Glory Laud and Honor, which is always sung badly because pitched too high or too low.

    What is the difference between an Introit and an Entrance Antiphon? Why are there several antiphons on Palm Sunday? Are they options? Are people to sing them at various moments in the service?

    1. The German hymnal has a German adaptation of this antiphon too!

      On your questions:

      Strictly speaking, any introit is literally an entrance antiphon.
      But in this case the antiphon is not used as a chant accompanying the entrance to a Mass, hence one would not call it an introitus (“antiphona ad introitum”) in Latin. It is used at the beginning of the commemoration of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, which takes place outside the church, and the Latin liturgy calls it simply “antiphon”. This antiphon is followed by verses from Ps 118(117). Then there is another antiphon for the entrance procession into the church “Pueri Hebraeorum”, sung with verses from Ps 24(23). And if necessary – depending on the duration of the procession -, other antiphons with verses can be added. And finally there is a responsory “Ingrediente Domino in sanctam civitatem” to be sung when one actually enters the church. So none of all that is a regular introit as in other Masses through the yearly cycle.

      What is typical about all that is that the verses take more place than the antiphons. This is usually done in the Office, not in the Mass. The only chant of all these ones that is composed in a complex manner like regular Mass chants is the “Ingrediente”, but it does not follow the regular structure of an introit: (long and complex) antiphon – (short and simple) verse(s) – antiphon. Instead it is: Long and complex thing – shorter, but still complex thing for a soloist – second part of the long and complex thing from the beginning . Hence it is per definitionem not an antiphon or an “antiphona ad introitum”, but a responsory.

      Well, that is my explanation why I said that there is no regular introit on this day.

    2. “especially since I do not much care for All Glory Laud and Honor, which is always sung badly because pitched too high or too low.”

      Always sung badly? I’m sorry Rita that your musical experiences on Palm Sunday have been so bad. I wonder then why the wedded text and tune have such staying power and appeal, even across denominations? Neale’s marvelous translation could always be sung to it’s traditional plainchant if “St. Theodulph” is not within musical capabilities. It’s in the Hymnal 1982 at #155.

      1. It’s my experience of ST THEODULPH that it’s one of the nearly sure-fire hits with congregations of very divers kinds over the decades. Even otherwise nearly dead congregations seem roused to thunder it. The only problem with (hardly unique to it, but also other hymns in this context) is in procession outdoors when strong singers (or percussionists) have not been sown through the procession to keep it together, especially if a choir heads indoors well ahead of the rump of a large but narrowly columned congregation.

      2. Sorry, they have. Painful memories of people squeaking on the high notes or trying to sing an octave below the melody, then practically all of them dropping out and nobody singing at all. Numerous churches I know of have indeed stopped singing it. So glad you are having a good experience.

  2. The hymn has a wide ranger – an octave and a third. I play it in Bb, which goes a bit too low down to Bb, but the high D at the beginning of the verses is a bit high. Playing it in C would take the melody up to E which would be too high for Catholics; putting it down in A would means it starts on a low A.

    Despite the problems with the wide range, in my experience the hymn works well because the organ is so loud, there is so much excitement with the procession, and the enthusiasm carries it through. Which confirms my rule that some hymns/songs that shouldn’t work do because of the group spirit.

    awr

    1. Certainly, On Eagles Wings and I Am The Bread of Life are just two notable contemporary songs that have a wider compass than ST THEODULPH. And the first note of the opening melody gets to start on the major seventh, though it was originally meant to be sung by schola or cantor only not the entire congregation.

      One could pitch ST THEODULPH in B. Only the people with perfect pitch who are dependent on sheet music would be irritated by that, and mercifully, that’s a very small group for ST THEODULPH in these parts (except for choristers singing harmonies).

      1. Yes – and the Star-Spangled Banner!
        (I think D# would be a bit high for some if you did THEODULPH in B…)

  3. MOre of a concern for 7:30-8AM Mass slot, where Bb is safer choice. Most men and women are baritones and mezzos, respectively, and even for amateurs D# is in-scope. True basses-tenors-contraltos-sopranos are the odd-balls out in the bell curve distribution of voices in white Euro-American cultures – but music directors tend to be among those oddballs and often don’t remember this.

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