Pictorial Catholic Library – Antiphon


The word signifies “alternate utterance.” Saint Ignatius, one of the Apostolic Fathers, is believed to have first instituted the method of alternate chanting by two choirs, at Antioch. In the time of Constantine, according to Sozomen, the monks Flavian and Diodorus introduced it among the Greeks. In the Latin Church it was first employed by Saint Ambrose at Milan in the fourth century, and soon became general. But in process of time the word came to have a more restricted sense, according to which it signifies a selection of words or verses prefixed to and following a psalm or psalms, to express in brief the mystery which the Church is contemplating in that part of her office.

In the Mass, the Introit (introduced by Pope Celestine I in the fifth century), the Offertory, and the Communion, are regarded as Antiphons. But it is in the canonical hours that the use of the Antiphon receives its greatest extension. At Vespers, Matins, and Lauds, when the office is a double [Double], the Antiphons are doubled? – that is, the whole Antiphon is said both before and after the psalm or canticle. On minor feasts, the Antiphons are not doubled; then the first words only are said before the psalm, and the whole at the end of it. Liturgical writers say that the Antiphon means charity; and that when it is not doubled, the meaning is that charity, begun in this life, is perfected in the life to come; when it is doubled, it is because on the greater feasts we desire to show a more ardent charity. Except the Alleluias, few Antiphons are sung hi Paschal time, for the joy of the season inflames of itself, and without extraneous suggestion, the charity of the clergy. On most Sundays the Antipnons at Vespers are taken from both Testaments, but in Paschal time only from the New.

The final Antiphons of the Blessed Virgin Mary formed no part of the original Church office; they came into the breviary later. They are four in number, one for each season of the year. The first, “Alma Redemptoris,” sung from Advent to Candlemas, was written by Hermannus Contractus, who died in 1054. Chaucer’s beautiful use of this in the Prioresses Tale shows how popular a canticle it must have been with our forefathers. The second, “Ave Regina,” sung from Candlemas to Maundy Thursday, was written about the same time, but the author is unknown. The third. “Regina Coeli, laetare,” is used in Paschal time; and the fourth, “Salve Regina” (to which, as is well known, Saint Bernard added the words “O clemens,” etc.), written either by Pedro of Compostella or Hermannus Contractus, is sung from Trinity to Advent.

MLA Citation