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What’s in an antiphon?

Opinion

The beautiful funeral liturgies that marked the passing to eternal life of Archbishop Leonard Faulkner demonstrated very clearly the important role that our Catholic rituals play within the faith community. The coming together of so many people from throughout our diocese and beyond was “cemented” by the prayers, the readings, the songs and hymns, the actions in which we all joined.

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As we sang the antiphon of the Responsorial Psalm at both the Vigil service and the Mass of Christian Burial I was reminded of the power that these short but meaning-filled sentences carry.

At the Vigil we repeated the consoling words that Jesus spoke to his disciples when he appeared to them after his resurrection: “My peace be upon you for ever, my love be within your heart, my Spirit will keep you safe all your days” cf. Jn 20:21-23). Even if we do not recall the words of the psalm verses that follow, this antiphon remains with us to remind us day after day of the gift that Jesus brings to each of us: the gift of his deep peace and the enduring and unfailing presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Psalm antiphon at the Mass was much more exultant in tone: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord!” Although we mourn Archbishop Faulkner’s death, we know that he is now in the loving presence of God for all eternity.  He has “gone rejoicing” to his true home. Once again, even without knowing the verses of the accompanying psalm, we can carry the words of the antiphon in our minds and hearts and take comfort from it.

This practice of carrying through the week the Psalm antiphon of each Sunday’s liturgy is a good one to cultivate. You might be surprised at how many of these little refrains you already know.  Certainly, the most widely known – “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want” – is a constant reminder that Christ, the Good Shepherd, is our ever-present guardian and provides all that we need. Another well-known antiphon – “The Lord is kind and merciful” – is a great reassurance when we fall short of the mark, whether that be in our relationships with family members or in some other situation. There is nothing we can do that will remain unforgiven, so long as we turn back to our kind and merciful God.

On those days when the world seems particularly beautiful or life seems good, the antiphon, “For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord” might spring to mind. Gratitude is a very attractive characteristic, and awareness of all the great gifts bestowed upon us by God can make our spirits soar and our hearts (if not our voices) sing. The joy we then radiate to those around us draws them too into the “goodness of the Lord”.

“Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.” This antiphon encourages us to truly listen to God’s word, especially as it is proclaimed at Mass, but also in our daily reading of Scripture. The nourishment that comes from a daily diet of Scripture helps us to live our lives in a way that befits disciples of Christ and builds the relationship with God that will come to full fruition when our earthly lives have ended and we join the Risen Christ and all the faithful who have gone before us.

Take a moment each week to really attend to the antiphon of the Responsorial Psalm. It is surprising how much wisdom, inspiration and encouragement is packed into these short sentences. They are easy to remember and can be a great way to keep us in touch with God throughout our day.

Jenny O’Brien is liturgy educator, Archbishop’s Office for Worship and Diocesan Events.

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