Antiphons... LotH


What’s their purpose?

At times I think they show how the Old Testament is revealed in the New… how the New Testament is hidden in the Old.

But other times, I’m just not getting it.

So I’m wondering, am I applying that saying wrong, or do I need to dig deeper those moments I’m not seeing the connection?

Is there a “purpose”? Or is it just part of the prayer?


The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, paragraph 113, says, in part:

The antiphons help to bring out the literary genre of the psalm; they highlight some theme that may otherwise not attract the attention it deserves; they suggest an individual tone in a psalm, varying with different contexts: indeed, as long as farfetched accommodated senses are avoided, antiphons are of great value in helping toward an understanding of the typological meaning or the meaning appropriate to the feast; they can also add pleasure and variety to the recitation of the psalms. (source)


Usually to show the theme of the Psalm. Certainly you’re correct that an antiphon can be used to reveal the New Covenant in light of the Old Covenant’s Psalms.

They are also used on feast days to do a sort of “story”. For example a few days ago on the feast of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist as the Divine Office progressed the antiphons told the story of his birth, ministry, and execution.

I consider them as a sort of “primer” prayer to get me ready to pray the main Psalm or Canticle.


Most of the antiphons for the ferial office are a verse from the psalm (or a paraphrase of it). Proper antiphons for saints, feasts, solemnities etc. are usually Bible verses related to the solemnity itself.

For the Benedictus and Magnificat on Sundays, they are tied to the reading for that year’s cycle of readings.

If you chant the Office, the mode of the antiphon also sets the chant mode of the psalmody.


Liturgical antiphons many times refer to a spiritual or mystical meaning in the scriptures, which will not be understood when they are looked at literally. For example, in the EF, on one of the Marian feasts, the gospel is actually referring to Mary of Bethany, but is showing the mother of God’s spiritual characteristics, or the office hymn (Portal of the World’s Salvation) which uses the “rock not cut with hands” from Daniel as a symbol of the holy virgin. These can be very hard to understand what they refer to, but each phrase teaches some spiritual truth about our Lady and the church.


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