The chant (a psalm, hymn, or antiphon) that was historically sung by a soloist, the choir, or the congregation during the Communion of the priest and the faithful in the Roman Mass. In the Roman liturgy this chant is called the Communion antiphon (antiphona ad communionem ) or simply the Communion.
Origin and Psalmodic Practice. The ancient practice of chanting a psalm during the distribution of Communion is common to both Eastern and Western liturgies. It is mentioned in the Apost. Const. (8:13, 16), by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech. Myst. 5:20) and by St. Augustine [Serm. 225; Patrologica Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 217 v., (Paris 1878–90) 38:1098, cf. 46:828]. In the East as in the West, Psalm 33 was often sung because of the relevant verse, Gustate et videte quoniam suavis est Dominus, which still serves for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost. Severus of Antioch composed hymns for the Communion [Patrologia orientalis, ed. R. Graffin and F. Nau (Paris 1903–) 7:678]. It is known that a hymn was sung in the ancient Gallican liturgy (Antiphonary of Bangor, ed. H. Warren, Bradshaw Society, 4, fol. 10v). At Milan an antiphon without psalmody, the Transitorium, is sung during Communion. The double Ambrosian series of Transitoria and Confractoria (the latter an antiphon sung during the breaking of the Host) presents numerous analogies with the Roman series of Communion antiphons.
According to the Ordines Romani of the 8th and 9th centuries, the Communion song was carried out in the following manner: Communion antiphon sung by the schola; psalmody, with repetition of the antiphon after each verse; Gloria Patri…Sicut erat …; a versus ad repetendum; and a last repetition of the antiphon. The psalm selected was the same as that from which the antiphon had been drawn. When the antiphon was not from the Psalter but from the Gospels or St. Paul's Epistles, or even from the Old Testament, the introit psalm provided the verses. The alternation of psalms with the Communion antiphon did not persist for long. In France the psalm was preserved only until the 10th century—except in certain churches on Christmas and Easter, days of general Communion. At St. Gall (see sankt gallen, abbey of) the psalm was still being sung in the 11th century, and in southern France and southern Italy the use of the psalm was known until the 12th century.
Musical Relation to Office Chants. In the Old Roman chant there are 38 Communion antiphons that are repeated as responses—with the addition of a versicle— in the antiphonary. In gregorian chant, where the distinction of genres is better observed, one finds far fewer selections common to the gradual and to the antiphonary. Such an example is the Communion Ego sum pastor (second Sunday after Easter), which is found again as a responsory in the Office, and the Communion Vos qui secuti (Common of Apostles), found also as an Office antiphon. The Communion of Holy Thursday, Dominus Jesus, is also an antiphon during the Mandatum. It is this distinction of musical genres in Gregorian chant that explains why eight Communions with Gospel texts and in syllabic style exactly like the Office antiphons were later clothed in ornate melodies that differ from one another according to the region where they are found. Five of them replaced Communion antiphons (now lost) from the Psalter on weekdays of Lent. For these Communions there are in medieval MSS ten different melodies for Oportet te, six for Qui biberit, five for Nemo te, seven for Lutum, and four for Videns. For the three remaining antiphons there are three different melodies for Mirabantur (third Sunday after Epiphany), four for Spiritus qui a Patre (Tuesday of Pentecost week), and six for Vos qui secuti (Common of Apostles).
To account for this multiplicity of melodies, it has been claimed that at the time the psalm-Communions of Lent were replaced by the Gospel-Communions, the new texts did not have melodies; hence the musical composition must have been effected subsequently and independently in each region. Such an explanation must be rejected, since in the Middle Ages the text of a chant was never set down without its being clothed at the same time with its melody. The true explanation is simpler: the primitive melodies of the five Lenten Communions— preserved in the oldest French, German, and Italian MSS—and the melodies of the other three Communions cited above, were syllabic in nature, resembling the antiphons of the Office rather than the other Communions of the Gradual book. In various churches it was thought desirable to replace this simple melody by a more elaborate one that would conform to the style of the other Communions.
Musical Analysis. The musical style of the Gregorian Communion antiphon is very much like the style of the Introit and is related to the style of the responsories of the Office; in fact, certain formulas of intonation and of cadence are identical with those of the Introit, and certain Communion cadences are found also in the responsories. Yet, Gregorian composition cannot be reduced to a mere linking together of ready-made formulas: creative inventiveness also had a large role to play. The pentatonic
melodies (e.g., In splendoribus, Tu es Petrus ) are perhaps from the oldest strata of the Gregorian repertory. The Communions of the Lenten weekdays (except those of Holy Week and the Gospel-Communions cited above) are by one and the same composer.
The modal division of the 144 Communion antiphons of the primitive Gregorian repertory is as follows: modes on D, 41; modes on E, 26; modes on F, 31; pieces sometimes classed on F, sometimes on G, 11, modes on G, 27. To this total of 136 antiphons must be added the 8 Communions mentioned above. A number of Communion melodies are merely adaptations of new texts to already existing melodies; thus, the Communion Per signum crucis (Exaltation of the Holy Cross) was adapted to the melody of the Communion Ab occultis (Lent). Likewise, the Communion Ego sum vitis vera (St. Vitalis) has borrowed its melody from Ego sum pastor bonus (second Sunday after Easter); here, the same initial text has understandably introduced the same melody. This manner of adaptation, which obviates original composition, was repeated at all epochs. The Communion for the Feast of the Holy Trinity, introduced in the 9th century, took its melody from the Communions Feci judicium and Invocabit. In the 13th century, the text Quotiescumque (feast of Corpus Christi) was adapted, a bit awkwardly, to the Communion Factus est repente (Pentecost).
Bibliography: p. m. ferretti, Esthétique grégorienne (Tournai 1938) 266–90. j. froger, "Les Chants de la messe aux VIIIe–IXe siècles," Revue Grégorienne 27 (1948) 104–06. r. j. hesbert, ed., Antiphonale missarum sextuplex (Brussels 1935) 46. m. huglo, "Antifone antiche per la Fractio panis, " Ambrosius 31 (1955) 85–95. j. a. jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, tr. f.a. brunner, 2 v. (New York 1951–55) 2:391–400. p. wagner, Einführung in die gregorianischen Melodien, 3 v. (Leipzig) v.1 (3d ed. 1911), v.2 (2d ed. 1912), v.3 (1921); repr. (Hildesheim 1962) 116–20.
"Communion Antiphon." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/communion-antiphon
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