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Offertory Antiphons

Date: August 15, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) speaks of an antiphon for the offertory at Mass, but the only place I have seen offertory antiphons is in missals for the extraordinary form; neither the now-defunct missals of the ordinary form nor the newly translated missals contain this antiphon. Do you know what happened to the offertory antiphon? Did the Latin "Novus Ordo" ever have them? If so, why were they dropped, and why would the GIRM speak of them? If not, why not? And if they do exist in Latin, why weren't they translated into English and given to us so that we can use them, as the Church obviously wishes? -- M.D., Cheyenne, Wyoming

A: The relevant norms from the GIRM are:

“74. The procession bringing the gifts is accompanied by the Offertory Chant (cf. no. 37 b), which continues at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar. The norms on the manner of singing are the same as for the Entrance Chant (cf. no. 48). Singing may always accompany the rite at the Offertory, even when there is no procession with the gifts.”

The above-mentioned No. 48 says:

“This chant is sung alternately by the choir and the people or similarly by a cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another setting; (2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time; (3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. If there is no singing at the Entrance, the antiphon given in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a reader; otherwise, it is recited by the Priest himself, who may even adapt it as an introductory explanation (cf. no. 31).”

Effectively, there are no longer any offertory antiphons found in the missal. In part, this is because the missal allows for several options during the presentation of gifts such as a silent offering, saying the offertory prayers aloud, or accompanying them with a suitable song.

It is within this third option that we find the possible use of the offertory antiphon. Since singing or reciting the offertory antiphons is no longer obligatory, they are no longer found in the missal. However, they are conserved in the official book called the Graduale Romanum. These chants may be freely used and may also inspire the choice of a suitable song appropriate to the feast.

Fortunately, although this Latin book is not easily found in bookstores, it is obtainable on the Internet and new editions have been issued.

There have also been several private attempts to translate and musically adapt the texts into modern languages.

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