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Printed antiphonary (c1700) open to Vespers of Easter Sunday. (Musée de l'Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris)

An Antiphonary, Antiphonal, "Antiphony" or Antiphoner (Latin antiphonarium, antiphonarius, antiphonarius liber, antiphonale; Greek ’antíphonon, antiphon, antiphone, anthem) is one of the liturgical books intended for use in choro (i. e. in the liturgical choir), and originally characterized, as its name implies, by the assignment to it principally of the antiphons used in various parts of the Roman liturgy.

In current usage Antiphoner refers more narrowly to books containing the chants for the Divine Office in distinction to the Gradual (Graduale or more rarely antiphonarium Missarum), which contains the antiphons used for the Mass.[1]

The discussion below is almost entirely drawn from the 1908 article in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Subsequent developments have been the replacement of the Ratisbon editions with the Vatican edition of 1912 and the publication of the Antiphonale monasticum (1934) produced by the Benedictines of Solesmes, In 1971 the Office was drastically revised and renamed the Liturgy of the Hours (Liturgia Horarum) and new books appeared: the Psalterium monasticum (1981) and the Liber hymnarius (1982).


It thus included generically the antiphons and antiphonal chants sung by cantor, congregation, and choir at Mass (antiphonarium Missarum, or graduale) and at the canonical Hours ( antiphonarium officii); but now it refers only to the sung portions of the Divine Office or Breviary. Other English equivalents for antiphonary are antiphonar (still in reputable use) and antiphoner (considered obsolete by some English lexicographers, but still sometimes used in current liteature). In the "Prioress' Tale" of Chaucer it occurs in the form "antiphonere":

He Alma Redemptoris herde synge
As children lerned hir antiphonere.

The word Antiphonary had in the earlier Middle Ages sometimes a more general, sometimes a more restricted meaning. In its present meaning it has also been variously and insufficiently defined as a "Collection of antiphons in the notation of Plain Chant", and as a liturgical book containing the antiphons "and other chants". In its present complete form it contains, in plain-chant notation, the music of all the sung portions of the Roman Breviary immediately placed with the texts, with the indications of the manner of singing such portions as have a common melody (such as versicles and responses, the Psalms, the Lessons, the Chapters). But the Lessons of Matins (First Nocturn) in the triduum of Holy Week, styled "Lamentations", have a melody proper to themselves, which is not therefore merely indicated but is placed immediately with the texts of the Lessons.


Ratisbon edition

The so-called "Ratisbon edition" of the Roman antiphonary, entitled Antiphonarium et Psalterium juxta ordinem Breviarii Romani cum cantu sub auspicis Pii IX et Leonis XIII Pontif. Maxim. reformato. Curâ et auctoritate S. Rituum Congregationis digestum Romæ, (edited by Friedrich Pustet, 1879)[2] was most widely used in the late nineteenth century, and commended for use in all the churches of the Catholic world by Pius IX and Leo XIII. The first of these volumes to be issued, entitled: Tomus II. continens Horus Diurnus Breviarii Romani (Vesperale), contained the antiphons, psalms, hymns and versicles of the Canonical Hours styled Horæ Diurnæ, i. e. Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. It comprised in one volume what in some editions had been distributed in several, such as the "Antiphonarium" (in a very restricted sense), the "Psalterium", the "Hymnarium", the "Responsoriale". The Office of Matins was divided into the other two volumes, one of which contained the invitatories, antiphons, hymns, etc., of Matins for the Proprium de Tempore (Proper of the Season), and the other, for the Commune Sanctorum (Common Office of the Saints) and the Proprium Sanctorum (Proper Office of the Saints).

A brief study of the divisions and arrangement of the Marquess of Bute's translation into English of the Roman Breviary will make clear from the above description the general character of a complete Roman antiphonary. It is suggested by some that this Ratisbon edition has lost its authentic and official character by virtue of the "Motu proprio" (22 November 1903), and the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (8 January 1904). Pope Pius X rejected the Ratisbon edition and ordered the creation of a new Vatican edition, in which both the texts and the melodies were to be revised in order to bring them into conformity with the results of recent palæographic studies in Gregorian chant.

Folio 22r of the Ranworth Antiphoner contains a portion of the Mass of the Nativity. The decorated initial contains a Nativity scene.

Scope, continued

In order to show as clearly as possible the exact position of the antiphonary (as the word is now used) amongst the liturgical books, it is proper to recall that the Roman Missal contains all the texts used at Mass; the Roman Breviary, all the texts used in the Divine Office or Canonical Hours. While in the Missal, the introits, graduals, tracts, sequences, offertories, communions, as well as the texts of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are both read by the celebrant and sung by the choir, their notation is not given, only the accentus or chants, of the celebrant and deacon have the music furnished (such as the intonations of the Gloria, the Credo, the chants of the various Prefaces, the two forms of the Pater Noster, the various forms of the Ite, or Benedicamus, the Blessing of the Font, etc.). The omitted chants (styled concentus), which are to be sung by the choir, are contained in a supplementary volume called the "Graduale" or "Liber Gradualis" (anciently the "Gradale"). In like manner, the Roman Breviary, practically entirely meant for singing in choro, contains no music; and the "Antiphonarium" performs for it a service similar to that of the "Liber Gradualis" for the Missal. Just as the "Liber Gradualis" and the "Antiphonarium" are, for the sake of convenience, separated from the Missal and Breviary respectively, so, for the same reason, still further subdivisions have been made of each. Into those of the "Graduale" we need not enter. The "Antiphonarium" has been issued in a compendious form "for the large number of churches in which the Canonical Hours of the Divine Office are sung only on Sundays and Festivals". This "Antiphonarium Romanum compendiose redactum ex editionibus typicis" etc., includes, however, the chants for the Masses of Christmas, the triduum of Holy Week, and other desired Offices, and is issued in a single volume. Another separate volume is the "Vesperal", which contains also the Office of Compline; and of the "Vesperal" a further compendium has been issued, entitled "Epitome ex Vesperali Romano". All the above volumes are in the Ratisbon edition. Associated somewhat in scope with the "Antiphonarium" is the "Directorium Chorii", which has been described as furnishing the ground plan for the antiphonary, inasmuch as it gives or indicates all the music of the chants (except the responsories after the Lessons), the tones of the psalms, the brief responsories, the "Venite Exsultemus", the "Te Deum", Litanies etc. The text of all the psalms, the full melody of the hymns, and the new feasts were added to the "official edition" of the "Directorium" in 1888.

The word Antiphonary does not therefore clearly describe the contents of the volume or volumes thus entitled, in which are found many chants other than the antiphon (technically so called), such as hymns, responsories, versicles, and responses, psalms, the "Te Deum", the "Venite Adoremus", and so forth. The expression "antiphonal chant" would, however, comprise all these different kinds of texts and chants, since they are so constructed as to be sung alternately by the two divisions of the liturgical choir; and in this sense the word Antiphonary would be sufficiently inclusive in its implication. On the other hand, the corresponding volume for the chants of the Mass, namely the "Graduale", or "Liber Gradualis", includes many other kinds of liturgical texts and chants in addition to the graduals, such as introits, tracts, sequences, offertories, communions, as well as the fixed texts of the "Ordinarium Missæ", or "Kyriale". It may be said, then, that these two books receive the names "Antiphonarium" and "Graduale" from the technical name of the most important chants included in them. Fundamentally all the chants, whether of the Mass or of the Divine Office, are sung antiphonally, and might, with etymological propriety, be comprised in the one general musical title of "Antiphonary".


The plainsong melodies found in the Roman antiphonary and the "Graduale" have received the general title of "Gregorian Chant", in honour of pope Gregory the Great (540-604), to whom a tradition, supported by internal and external evidence, ascribes the work of revising and collecting into the various texts and chants of the liturgy. Doubtless the ancient missal contained only those texts which were appointed for the celebrant, and did not include the texts which were to be chanted by the cantor and choir; and the "Antiphonarium Missæ" supplied the omitted texts for the choir as well as the chants in which the texts were to be sung. The importance of the Gregorian Antiphonary is found in the enduring stamp it impressed on the Roman liturgy.

Other popes gave, a medieval writer assures us, attention to the chants; and he specifies St. Damasus, St. Leo[disambiguation needed], St. Gelasius, St. Symmachus, St. John I and Boniface II. It is true, also, that the chants used at Milan were styled, in honour of St. Ambrose (called the "Father of Church Song"), the Ambrosian Chant.

But it is not known whether any collection of the chants had been made before that of St. Gregory, concerning which his ninth-century biographer, John the Deacon, wrote: Antiphonarium centonem … compilavit. The authentic antiphonary mentioned by the biographer has not as yet been found. What was its character? What is meant by cento? In the century in which John the Deacon wrote his life of the Saint, a cento meant the literary feat of constructing a coherent poem out of scattered excerpts from an ancient author, in such wise, for example, as to make the verses of Virgil sing the mystery of the Epiphany. The work, then, of St. Gregory was a musical cento, a compilation (centonem … compilavit) of pre-existing material into a coherent and well-ordered whole. This does not necessarily imply that the musical centonization of the melodies was the special and original work of the Saint, as the practice of constructing new melodies from separate portions of older ones had already been in vogue two or three centuries earlier than his day. But is it clear that the cento was one of melodies as well as of texts? In answer it might indeed by said that in the earliest ages of the Church the chants must have been so very simple in form that they could easily be committed to memory; and that most of the subsequently developed antiphonal melodies could be reduced to a much smaller number of types, or typical melodies, and could thus also be memorized.

The Poissy Antiphonal, folio 30 (Moyen Age).

And yet many[who?] say that it is scarcely credible that the developed melodies of St. Gregory's time had never possessed a musical notation, had never been committed to writing. What made his antiphonary so very useful to chanters (as John the Deacon esteemed it) was probably his careful presentation of a revised text with a revised melody, written either in the characters used by the ancient authors (as set down in Boethius) or in neumatic notation. We know that St. Augustine, sent to England by the great Pope, carried with him a copy of the precious antiphonary, and founded at Canterbury a flourishing school of singing. That this antiphonary contained music we know from the decree of the Second Council of Cloveshoo (747) directing that the celebration of the feasts of Our Lord should, in respect to baptism, Masses and music (in cantilenæ modo) follow the method of the book "which we received from the Roman Church". That this book was the Gregorian antiphonary is clear from the testimony of Egbert, Bishop of York (732-766), who in his "De Institutione Catholicâ" speaks of the "Antiphonarium" and "Missale" which the "blessed Gregory … sent to us by our teacher, blessed Augustine".


It is impossible to trace here the progress of the Gregorian antiphonary throughout Europe, which resulted finally in the fact that the liturgy of Western Europe, with a very few exceptions, finds itself based fundamentally on the work of St. Gregory, whose labour comprised not merely the sacramentary, and the "Antiphonarium Missæ", but extended also to the Divine Office. Briefly, the next highly important step in the history of the antiphonary was its introduction into some dioceses of France where the liturgy had been Gallican, with ceremonies related to those of Milan and with chants developed by newer melodies. From the year 754 may be dated the change in favour of the Roman liturgy. St. Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz, on his return from an embassy to Rome, introduced the Roman liturgy into his diocese and founded the Chant School of Metz. Subsequently, under Charlemagne, French monks went to Rome to study the Gregorian tradition there, and some Roman teachers visited France. The interesting story of Ekkehard concerning Petrus and Romanus is not now credited, but a certain Petrus, according to Notker, was sent to Rome by Charlemagne and at the Abbey of St. Gall trained the monks in the Roman style. Besides Metz and St. Gall, other important schools of chant were founded at Rouen and Soissons. In the course of time new melodies were added, at first characterized by the simplicity of the older tradition, but gradually becoming more free in extended intervals. With respect to German manuscripts, the earliest are found in a style of neumatic notation different from that of St. Gall, while the St. Gall manuscripts are derived not directly from the Italian but from the Irish-Anglo-Saxon. It is probable that before the tenth and eleventh centuries (at which period the St. Gall notation began to triumph in the German churches) the Irish and English missionaries brought with them the notation of the English antiphonary.

It would take too much space to record here the multiplication of antiphonaries and their gradual deterioration, both in text and in chant, from the Roman standard. The school of Metz began the process early. Commissioned by Louis the Pious to compile a "Graduale" and antiphonary, the priest Amalarius of Metz found a copy of the Roman antiphonary in the monastery of Corbie, and placed in his own compilation an M when he followed the Metz antiphonary, R when he followed the Roman, and an I C (asking Indulgence and Charity) when he followed his own ideas. His changes in the "Graduale" were few; in the antiphonary, many.

Part of the revision which, together with Elisagarus, he made in the responsories as against the Roman method, were finally adopted in the Roman antiphonary. In the twelfth century the commission established by St. Bernard to revise the antiphonaries of Citeaux criticized with undue severity the work of Amalarius and Elisagarus and withal produced a faulty antiphonary for the Cistercian Order. The multiplication of antiphonaries, the differences in style of notation, the variations in melody and occasionally in text, need not be further described here. In France especially, the multiplication of liturgies subsequently became so great, that when Dom Guéranger, in the middle of the 19th century, started introducing the Roman liturgy into that country, sixty out of eighty dioceses had their own local breviaries. Of the recourse had to medieval manuscripts, the reproduction of various antiphonaries and graduals by Père Lambillotte, by the "Plain Song and Medieval Music Society" and especially by Dom André Mocquereau in the "Paléographie Musicale", founded eighteen years ago (which has already given phototypic reproductions of antiphonaries of Einsiedeln, of St. Gall, of Hartker, of Montpellier, of the twelfth-century monastic antiphonary found in the library of the Chapter of Lucca, which in course of publication illustrates the Guidonian notation that everywhere replaced, save in the school of St. Gall, the ambiguous method of writing the neums in campo aperto, as well as the proposed publication in facsimile by the Benedictines of Stanbrook, of the thirteenth- century Worcester antiphonary (Antiphonale Monasticum Wigarniense) it is not necessary to speak in detail. This appeal to early tradition has resulted in Pius X taking away its official sanction from the Ratisbon edition. The Ratisbon "Graduale", founded on the Medicean (which gave the chants as abbreviated and changed by Anerio and Suriano), and the "Antiphonarium" (which was based on the Antiphonale of Venice, 1585, with the responsories of Matins based on the Antwerp edition of 1611), would be replaced by the chants as found in the older codices.

That the word antiphonarium is, or was, quite elastic in its application, is shown by the remark of Amalarius in his Liber de ordine Antiphonarii, written in the first half of the ninth century. The work which in Metz was called "Antiphonarius" was divided into three in Rome: "What we call 'Graduale' they style 'Cantatorius'; and this, in accordance with their ancient custom, is still bound in a single volume in some of their churches. The remainder they divide into two parts: the one containing the responsories is called 'Responsoriale'; while the other, containing antiphons, is called 'Antiphonarius'. I have followed our custom, and have placed together (mixtim) the responsories and the antiphons according to the order of the seasons in which our feasts are celebrated" (P. L., CV, 1245). The word "cantatory" explains itself as a volume containing chants; it was also called "Graduale", because the chanter stood on a step (gradus) of the ambo or pulpit, while singing the response after the Epistle. Other ancient names for the antiphonary seem to have been Liber Officialis (Office Book) and "Capitulare" (a term sometimes used for the book containing the Epistles and Gospels).

The changes in the antiphonary resulting from the reform of the Roman Breviary ordered by the Council of Trent and carried out under Pius V is treated under Breviary. The term antiphonarium, printed as a title to many volumes, is made to cover a very varied selection from the complete antiphonary. Sometimes it means practically a "Vesperale" (sometimes with Terce added; sometimes with various processional chants and blessings taken from the "Processionale" and "Rituale"). These volumes meet the local usages in certain dioceses with respect to Church services, and offer a practical manual for the worshipper, excluding portions of the Divine Office not sung in choir in some places and including those portions which are sung. (See also names of Antiphonaries, as Armagh, Antiphonary of Bangor etc.)


  1. Michel Huglo and David Hiley. "Antiphoner". In Macy, Laura. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (subscription required)
  2. Antiphonary and Psaltery according to the order of the Roman Breviary, with the chant as reformed under the auspices of Pope Pius IX and Leo XIII. Arranged at Rome under the supervision of the Sacred Congregation of Rites.