medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture


Fratres et sorores:


I have for many years had a great love of the antiphons sung at Mass. These are very ancient and are therefore a fitting subject for our deliberations on the medieval religion list. However, for all my devotion, I cannot claim to be an expert in their origin and the principles of their selection and composition, so I write, not so much to display my own expertise, as to invite other members to gratify my scholarly curiosity and, it may be, that of other members. For those who are not interested the delete button is close to hand, and yet I feel that many of us will be interested, for the Mass was at the heart of medieval religion, and the antiphons were a prominent feature of the Mass, then more so than now, when they are often omitted.


Let me explain exactly which antiphons I mean: those scriptural verses sung at the beginning of the Mass (the Introit), after the first reading (the Gradual), before the Gospel (the Alleluia or, in Lent, the Tract), at the Offertory (the Offertorium) and at the Communion. All of these are still to be found in the modern Graduale Romanum, the book which supplies the chants for the Mass; and all except the Offertorium have been translated into English. That is to say, an English Mass now has an Entrance Antiphon, though without the psalm-verse which accompanies it in the Latin, a responsorial psalm which provides an equivalent for the Gradual, a Gospel Acclamation Ė usually the Alleluia Ė and a Communion Antiphon.


The Offertory Antiphon has not been translated, giving one the impression that it has been dropped from the modern liturgy, but it is still there in the Graduale Romanum. The rubrics in the English version of the Roman Missal authorise the singing of a Ďsongí at the Offertory, but no text is provided. Usually an offertory hymn is sung, and while some of these are very fine, often they are quite banal. I once suggested a parody of one of these to an organist:


We bring you bread, O Lord,

We bring you bread.

We bring you bread, O Lord,

Because you were dead.


We bring you wine, O Lord,

We bring you wine.

We bring you wine, O Lord,

Because now you are alive again and everything is fine.


The organist remarked that she hadnít heard that one before, but didnít realise it was a parody; which says something about the standard of Offertory Hymn commonly in use.

However, I am not seeking to gripe about present-day liturgy, but to examine its medieval origins. Iíve gone on a bit for one posting, so Iíll begin my examination proper tomorrow with a fresh one.



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