Episco-Fact #96
June 14, 2018

Episco-Francisco-fact: This week's question deals with both universal church practice and the practice at St. Francis. Why do we say the Psalm in unison? In some place the congregations say the Psalm responsively and antiphonally?

 Psalms said in the Eucharist and Psalms said in the Daily Office have different worship traditions behind them.

The Psalm/Psalms of Morning or Evening prayer are a shared part of a non-hierarchical worship community. Therefore, the communities ordered their worship in ways to participate together, reading the Psalms responsively at the prompting of the Officiant, or antiphonally, responding to different parts of the gathered community, often answering each other from across the aisle of choir stalls.

The psalms in the Eucharist, are placed between the readings are in the place of the Gradual Hymn, or Hymns. This set-up is recorded as early as the 4th century and prescribed in a liturgical document called the Apostolic Constitutions from that period. Some believe the term gradual comes from the Latin, "gradus," meaning step, indicating that the Psalm was said from the ambo (pulpit).

The gradual was a psalm led by a cantor or, later, a choir, which introduced an antiphon (a verse from the psalm that best summarizes its message) which was repeated immediately by the congregation and then was repeated after each verse or a group of verses.

Antiphon: O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
for with the Lord there is mercy; Repeated by the People

Cantor: 1 Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

2 If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand? Antiphon

3 For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.

 4 I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
  in his word is my hope. Antiphon

This structure was traditional and emphasized the way that the people participate as a body in the Eucharist. This directed participation of responding in unison is captured by our current recitation/singing of the Psalm in unison.

 For the months of July and August, the church will move to using the more ancient practice of getting the congregation to proclaim an antiphon, as directed by a leader. Our practice will begin in spoken form, and we may try out the chanted form in the autumn. Be on the lookout for this new form of saying the Psalm, or Gradual of the day.