The Collegeville Introit Project

This fall we’re running the “Introit Project” for Sunday Mass at Saint John’s Abbey. Three monks of St. John’s (Br. Jacob Berns, Br. Ælred Senna, and I) are joined by Br. Wolfgang Sigler of Munsterschwarzach Abbey and Br. Amadeus Mhagama of Hanga Abbey, Tanzania. We practice every Saturday after lunch for about 15 minutes and sing the Introit at about 10:27 am before the opening hymn of the congregational Mass. In the leaflet we bill it as: CALL TO PRAYER (Introit).

In fact we’re not doing the “real” introit from the Graduale Romanum (i.e. the one we post at Pray Tell every Monday morning). Rather, I’m taking either the Benedictus or the Magnificat antiphon from the new Antiphonale Monasticum, whose texts of these are taken from the Gospel readings of the three-new post-Vatican II Mass lectionary. This was in part a pragmatic decision, because I’d rather do an easier chant well than struggle with a more difficult one. It’s important to me that the singers and listener’s have a good experience of this new thing. As we singers get in sync with each other after singing regularly for a longer period, perhaps we can look at the more challenging Graduale introits. Maybe in Advent? Or in Lent?

We sing the antiphon three times. For the first “psalm” verse I’ve elected to grab the text from the Gospel Acclamation verse of the Mass rather than the Psalter. This means that we sing this text in Latin, then later the cantor sings it in English. (There is precedent for singing Psalm verses from the Gospels in medieval communio chants.) My thought was that this Gospel Acclamation text ties in admirably to the Gospel-based text of the antiphon. Also, it saves me the bother of having to figure out which Psalm verse would best fit (though as a Benedictine I ought to know the Psalter quite well). After the second iteration of the antiphon, we sing the Gloria Patri and then the third and last antiphon.

Part of me actually finds these shorter Gospel canticle antiphons preferable to the Graduale propers, precisely on liturgical grounds.

As much as I love the “real” propers and would appreciate being in a community that sings these annually in their (mostly) one-year cycle, the fact is that they bear only occasional connection to the Scripture readings. They didn’t necessarily connect thematically to the old one-year lectionary cycle, either, but at least they were always associated with the same readings. One would sing these propers and hear these readings because today is the Xth Sunday after Pentecost, even if they didn’t connect up thematically with each other.

Since we’re using the Introit as a call to prayer, it works well liturgically to sing these Antiphonale antiphons which are proper not in the official-canonical sense, but in the strong liturgical-thematic sense.

To be honest, I wish there were a Graduale Simplex that gave for every Sunday of the year one proper Mass antiphon (either Ben or Mag) from the Antiphonale, useable at prelude, entrance, offertory, or communion. As it is, the Simplex in effect gives “commons” stolen from the Liturgy of the Hours that can be used at Mass any Sunday within a season or within Ordinary Time, so the precedent is there. I predict that such a resource would contribute mightily to the use of Latin chant in parishes and communities at Sunday Mass.

Here is what the score looks like that I prepare weekly. In cases where the antiphon is found is ms SG 390-391, from Hartker c. 1000 AD, I include a graphic from the online manuscripts of St. Gall. I also add neumes to the antiphon (these are not present in the most recent Antiphonale, alas) based on Hartker. It looks like this:

5 comments

  1. Father Ruff, I look forward to ongoing examples from the Collegeville Introit Project!

    I have a question about the statement in parenthesis: “There is precedent for singing Psalm verses from the Gospels in medieval communio chants.” Does this mean that there were some gospel-based communion antiphons that also used additional words from the (same?) gospel to serve as “psalm verses” for the antiphon? Just curious.

  2. This is a very interesting idea that I may experiment with, considering that I have a group of kids who are not ready to handle the Gregorian introits, but could manage the shorter Office antiphons.

    A few questions:

    (1) Is it necessary for the Entrance Chant (and here I mean GR/RM/hymn/whatever) to prefigure the Gospel? The GIRM mentions multiple purposes of the Entrance Chant, but introducing the day’s themes is not one of them.

    (2) Not knowing exactly the process of how the revised GR was compiled, it seems to me that they made an effort for the Communion chant to coincide closely with the Gospel, the Introit much less so, and then hardly at all for the Offertory. Is this true?

    (3) The modern Responsorial Psalm and Verse at the Alleluia before the Gospel usually correspond more closely with the Gospel than the GR Gradual and Alleluia. However, the Roman Missal antiphons correspond less than the GR antiphons do. The RM Entrance Antiphon is usually the same as the GR, but the RM Communion Antiphon is often something generically Eucharistic to be used for every year of the 3-year cycle, while the GR antiphon is often tied more specifically to the lectionary. Why is this? What was the logic of those compiling the Roman Missal, and as long as they were just choosing texts without any music that had to be drawn from the treasury, why didn’t they make an attempt to make them more fitting for the 3-year lectionary?

    1. Have you considered the Graduale Simplex, essentially Office antiphons and psalms repurposed as ‘seasonal antiphons’? They would serve to introduce simple chant, and were devised for that purpose, as mandated by VII. [Also available in English texts to the same Gregorian tunes as ‘By Flowing Waters’]

    2. Pressures on the revision of GR –
      Complete the renewal of the Gradual started at the beginning of the 20th century.
      Extend the variety of biblical texts (and hence three year lectionary for Sundays, and two year cycle for weekdays)
      Import chants from the treasury not then in GR, and remove neoGregorian chants.
      Rearrange chants to match the revised Calendar (OT, abolition of Septuagesima …)
      & solution –
      change as little as possible. So this is largely the traditional arrangement, hallowed by time – and the theories behind the arrangements are lost to us.
      There was enormous pressure to produce a complete liturgical package as quickly as possible, because there were strong forces against change, any change, and at the same time in some places, particlularly in the Low countries and parts of Germany, liturgical experiments were out of control.

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