Brush up your rubrics for Advent - The antiphons for the psalms, Part I



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We are rapidly approaching the end of the liturgical year and thus approaching Advent, which is surely the most complicated period for the Office of the entire year.

Time to get ready!

Accordingly, I thought this might be a good time to do a little brush-up your rubrics series, with a particular emphasis on how to say the Office is during Advent.

This series is particularly aimed at those who are relatively new to the Office, but others may find it of use as well, by way of a refresher.

In particular, for those who want to follow along with the Le Barroux monks or sing the Office themselves, I have now added page references for the Antiphonale Monasticum to my Ordo notes.  So I thought it might also be helpful to make a few comments along the way about how to adapt that book to the 1962 (and Le Barroux variant) rubrics.

The antiphons - a brief introduction

Today I want to start looking at the antiphons for the psalms, the short refrain used at the beginning and end of each psalm or group of psalms.

St Benedict specifically mentions the use of antiphons in his description of the Office in his Rule, including the use of particular sets of antiphons for festivals.   The actual sets of antiphons for various feasts and seasons though, gradually expanded over the centuries as seasons and feasts were added or became more elaborated.

Singing the Office

The antiphons are particularly important musically, as their 'mode' determines the chant tone that the psalm is sung on.

If you take a look at page 3 of the psalter section of the Antiphonale Monasticum (from page 1 in Part I if you download it), for example, you will see annotations of 'VIII G' next to the start of the antiphon (incipit) for Monday Prime during the year (Feria Secunda ad Primam...In Feriis Officio per Annum, Antiphona).

That means that the psalms that follow (Psalms 1, 2&6) are sung to Tone 8.

Textual function

But their key textual function is to introduce and conclude the psalm, either by highlighting a particularly important verse in what is being sung, or by reminding us of an aspect of the feast or season.

For this reason, Advent has several sets of antiphons just for the season:
  • one set of antiphons for Sunday Matins in the season of Advent to replace those used throughout the year; 
  • a set of antiphons for each week of Advent, used at I Vespers of Sunday (Saturday), Sunday Lauds to Vespers, and Prime to None each day up until 16 December; and
  • a set of antiphons for Lauds to Vespers for each day of the week used between December 17 and 23.
Finding the antiphons for Advent

For much of the year the antiphons used at each hour are included in the psalter section of your Diurnal, breviary, psalter or other Office book.

If you look again at page 3 of the Antiphonale for example, you will see that it provides the leads in to the antiphons for time throughout the year (Officio per annum), Lent (Tempore Quadragesimae), Passiontide and Easter (Tempore Paschale).   You can find the same selection of antiphons in the Monastic Diurnal at the start of its psalter section (MD  2-3 in the 2004 onwards editions).

For Advent though, with the exception of Sunday Matins (where the Advent antiphons are included in most books) because they change each week or day, they are found in the 'temporale' section of Office books, which provide the texts for the special seasons of the year.

Accordingly, your first bit of preparation for Advent is to make sure you can find the antiphons.  For the first part of Advent (up to and including December 16):
  • in the Monastic Diurnal, look in the Proper of the Season section near the start of the book - the first page provides the antiphons for 1 Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent which are also used at Lauds (with the addition of the missing fourth antiphon, MD 4*), and then for subsequent weeks.  The antiphons for Prime to None for each week are also included in the Ordinary of the ferial office of Advent, MD 9* ff;
  • in the Antiphonale Monasticum, the antiphons for the first Sunday of Advent (also used at I Vespers, viz Sabbato ante Dominicam I Adventus) are on AM (Part I of the download version) on page 187, with subsequent weeks following; 
  • if you are using a breviary, make sure you have the right volume, and look for them in the temporale.  In the 1962 breviary the relevant section starts on page 3 and is headed Tempus Adventus;
  • in the Psautier Monastique, the antiphons for Prime to None can be found in the Ordinary of Advent section, which starts on page 560.
Antiphonale shortcuts

And one final point - I noted earlier that on page 3 of the Antiphonale it provides just the 'incipits' of the Prime antiphons.  That is because in earlier versions of the Office, the antiphons were not always sung in full before the psalms.  In many cases, only the incipit was sung before; the full thing after. 

In the 1962 Office though, it was decided to restore what was almost certainly the original practice of singing the antiphon in full both before and after the psalm(s).  So if you are using the Antiphonale, in some cases you may need to turn over to the end of the psalms to find the full antiphon written out (unless of course you know them by heart and just use the incipits as a memory prompt).

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