A latin maxim claims Qui bene cantat bis orat or the one who sings well prays twice, and after standing, the congregants open their hymnals and all sing the entrance song. Both figuratively and literally, the entire assembly is on the same page.
In addition to fostering unity, the content and form of the entrance song indicates the degree of solemnity and leads the people’s thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or feast:
After the people have gathered, the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the deacon and ministers. The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers.” – General Instruction of the Roman Missal 47
During advent, the congregation may sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel as the entrance song. The faithful will hear readings of the prophets concerning the coming messiah or of John the Baptist preparing the way.
If the entrance song is Jesus Christ is Risen Today, the Church is in the Easter cycle and the Gospel proclamation will be from one of the resurrection accounts, one of our Lord’s post-resurrection appearances, the parable of the Good Shepherd or excerpts from Christ’s discourse and prayer at the last supper.
Today, the responsibility for selecting the entrance song for the mass is left to the discretion of each individual parish:
In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant:
- the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting;
- the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual;
- a song 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;
- a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.
–General Instruction of the Roman Missal 48
The pastoral judgement used in the song’s choice takes into consideration certain factors such as the cultural make-up of the congregation, its age, social characteristics and the faithful’s particular spiritual needs:
Music and singing, which express the soul of people, have pride of place in the liturgy. And so singing must be promoted, in the first place singing the liturgical text, so that the voices of the faithful may be heard in the liturgical actions themselves. In some parts of the world, especially mission lands, there are people who have their own musical traditions, and these play a great part in their religious and social life. Due importance is to be attached to their music and a suitable place given to it, not only in forming their attitude toward religion, but also in adapting worship to their native genius. Musical forms, melodies and musical instruments could be used in divine worship as long as they are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, and provided they are in accord with the dignity of the place of worship and truly contribute to the uplifting of the faithful.–Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy, Varietates Legitimae #40
Therefore, the entrance song may vary from parish to parish on any given Sunday. However, before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the same entrance anthem– the introit– was intoned by the Universal Church.
The words of the Introit of the day were usually taken from the Psalms or from some other part of scripture. The Introit, sung in Latin, was so influential, that its first few words became the title that identified that particular day in the liturgical cycle.
In the Church, the 4th Sunday of Lent is designated Laetare Sunday. This is taken from the first words of the Entrance Antiphon which is Laetare Jerusalem or Rejoice, O Jerusalem.
Similarly, the third sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday whose name is also taken from the first word of the Latin Introit Gaudete which also means Rejoice.
The song for the Mass of the Dead began with Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine which in English is Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord so Masses of the Dead are known as Requiems.
The entrance antiphon used for the second Sunday after Easter was used to describe that day in the Church. It was borrowed by Victor Hugo as the name of the tragic hero in his famed literary work The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
This day is traditionally known, primarily in France and other parts of Europe, as Quasimodo Sunday because of the beginning words of the Introit which comes from 1 Peter 2:2,3: Quasi modo geniti infantes. In English, this is translated as Just as newborn infants, referring to the newly baptized at Easter who are embarking on their journey as Christians. The song counsels them to long for spiritual sustenance just as newborn children desire mother’s milk to receive nourishment.
In the Hugo novel, the abandoned baby was found at the doorsteps of Notre Dame Cathedral on the second Sunday after Easter and was, therefore, given the name Quasimodo.
The entrance song is identifying–it states the theme of the mass. It focuses the assembly’s attention to a common purpose and allows the faithful to more actively participate in the liturgy. The uniformity of singing while standing is outward evidence, both aural and visual, of the gathered faithful being transformed into a liturgical community. The entrance song is so much more than mere musical accompaniment to the entrance procession.