Antiphon Renewal’s mission statement is “making it easy to recover the Church’s sung texts.” To this end, I am pleased to announce a new project that will hopefully live up to this statement. The idea is inspired by Maestro Greg Heislman, who mastered this method during his tenure at the Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio.
The resource is called “Last Verse Introits.” It expands upon our current collection of entrance antiphon hymns. Every Sunday and Solemnity will have a familiar hymn or two. The last verse will be an adaptation of the entrance antiphon, by myself or from Mr Heislman’s incredible collection. Each setting will have one organ score with all the verses, and multiple melody files with various lengths, to accommodate all entrance processions. Choose the melody file that suits your church. All files will be made available for free with no need to report or purchase any license. All hymns, accompaniments, and tunes are in the public domain. See the beginnings of this project by clicking this button...
Here's an example from the 28th Sunday. The hymn "Come, Thou Fount," and the introit from Psalm 130, both express the theme of failure followed by reliance on mercy.
I felt called to offer this resource because I believe the introits should be sung. It is my mission to eliminate excuses for not doing so. Our previous collection of antiphon hymns contains introit, appointed psalm verse, and doxology. This is the format of the sung introits from the Roman Gradual, and is therefore the traditional method. The tunes are familiar, and the texts are new. We have users all over the world, as far away as Malaysia, using these on a regular basis.
This new collection is similar, but works in harmony with that core repertoire of classic traditional hymns that we can’t live without. Rather than replacing those hymn texts, we add to them. My wife Melissa, herself a talented organist, requested I treat the Advent and Lent introits this way for her church. It got me thinking about the great merits of this method.
Some benefits of Last Verse Introits: It keeps the familiar connection between tune and text. (Long term memory must not be underestimated.) It gets people singing confidently before tackling the introit. It puts the introit in the proper spot, liturgically speaking: as the priest approaches the altar and immediately before the sign of the cross. The spiritual value of introits, which are almost always scripture, will work their way into hearts. I’m careful to choose hymns that match the season and theme of the antiphon, to make the result smooth. The three year lectionary Gospel themes are irrelevant. The introit is the theme chosen by history, tradition, and the Holy Spirit. Last Verse Introits are sustainable as a long-term method because of the balance of variety and familiarity of the entrance hymns. Hymn tunes are common but not overused - no more than 3 times for each hymn. This collection has longevity on its side - meaning you could do this the entire liturgical year without getting bored of it. Maestro Heislman did this weekly for over a decade. This longevity can allow introits to become consistent in ordinary parishes, not only something tried for a short season. With that said, I encourage newbies to try things for a season to see how it goes. Why not try Last Verse Introits for Advent, or the Christmas Season?
This project seems to be particularly useful for big Holy days. Christmas Mass goers expect to sing Christmas hymns. You can, and still add the introit without any disruption. Same goes for "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" on Easter Sunday. What about Hail, Holy Queen on Assumption, or Immaculate Mary on Dec 8, or Come Holy Ghost on Pentecost? These are the hymns for which we have set the introit. Make this your regular entrance hymn resource, and all the work of planning is done for you for the entire year! In fact, I made an effort to include all the most popular entrance hymns with the entire liturgical year in mind as a cohesive whole. Chances are, your go-to public domain hymns are part of this collection.
One objection to this method is that it busts up the poetry of hymns, which are meant to be sung in their entirety. Yes, I agree. It is a compromise. But this is already common: in my online poll of 200 Catholic musicians, about 50% shorten their entrance hymn to fit the liturgical action anyway. Publishers cut hymn verses to fit their missalettes. The introit is meant to fit the liturgical action. 24% of respondents to said poll sing all the hymn verses. This number surprised me. As a result, I also include full length hymns with the last verse introit for those parishes that so value the poetic integrity of hymns that they don't want to cut them short.
Another difficulty is that I am not able to share copyrighted hymns. There are some well-loved hymns that I had to leave out, such as “To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King” “Lift High the Cross,” and "Where Charity and Love Prevail." However, I didn’t actually leave them out. I have a few antiphon settings that match these exact hymns, and will share them, introit text only, as an alternate setting. It will be up to the user to engrave it using the appropriate license. (Onelicense holders may email me directly for engravings of these). Those who desire modern copyrighted hymns will note that we already offer seasonal collections of popular Catholic songs that use a familiar modern refrain and include adapted verses- see entrance antiphon hymns page . Also, Last Verse Introits will include a version with chords for modern groups or those with less organ experience.
As far as my philosophy of adaptation- I try to maintain as much vocabulary and sentence structure as possible from the antiphon, which is most often from the psalms. I start with the Roman Missal settings but consider also the vocabulary of the matching graduale translations. Where those two differ, we will try to offer a setting of each. Occasionally the appointed psalm verse is included as well, to fit longer tunes. We employ a bit of poetic license to match the chosen hymn, to satisfy the rhyme scheme, and make it singable and seamless. In doing so, I hope I have kept the meaning of the text. I consider it a challenge to meet both criteria of faithfulness to scripture and good poetic hymnody. I believe Mr Heislman’s settings nail this, and I think I accomplished this fairly well too, but I will let you be the judge. Kathy Pluth's translations prove this kind of accuracy and faithfulness is possible in rhymed meter. Nevertheless, some may prefer the accuracy of a straight chanted antiphon. I understand and support this, of course. Although, perhaps you can do both. Chanting the introit before or after a Last Verse Introit may be an effective formula, allowing both the assembly and cantors to have a turn.
If you use Last Verse Introits, I believe you will meet hesitant priests and parishioners more than halfway. Honestly, you’re meeting them 95% of the way. You’re asking for a 5% effort on their part to sing the Mass. What legitimate objection is left to singing the introit? That they have to use paper instead of a hymnal? I will eventually have a solution for that too- by hopefully publishing a customizable hymnal supplement called “Last Verse Introits.”
If this approach speaks to you and your situation, let me know! This will be a work in progress over the next several months, but I will try to stay a few weeks ahead of the liturgical calendar. If there is a hymn I missed that you really want to use on a given Sunday, please let me know. If I feel it’s a good fit, I’ll adapt a Last Verse Introit for it.