This article by Sr Eleanor Campion ocso is the first in a series of reflections on the entrance antiphon of the Mass for the Sundays of the Lenten season
The Mass for every Sunday and feast day of the year has its own entrance antiphon, intended to be sung during the procession of the priest and ministers to altar. In practice, in many churches some other hymn is sung, and that too is permitted. But the entrance antiphons (or introits) have a long history and are rich in meaning. Even if not sung or spoken, they are worth pondering.
The text of today’s entrance antiphon is: When he calls on me, I will answer him; I will deliver him and give him glory, I will grant him length of days. It is a taken from psalm 90. This is the psalm from which the devil quoted another line, out of context, to Jesus at his temptation in the desert. On this first Sunday of Lent when we read the gospel account of Jesus’ temptation, we sing verses from this psalm in their correct context. And not only at the beginning of Mass: the traditional Communion antiphon for today is also taken from psalm 90, as is the responsorial psalm in Year <C. And in the Liturgy of the Hours, the responsories at both Morning and Evening Prayer every weekday of Lent are from psalm 90 – it is very much a Lent psalm, expressing great trust and confidence in God. (In the monastery we also sing psalm 90 at Compline every night before going to bed).
The forty-day journey of Lent leads to Calvary on Good Friday, and from there to the resurrection. It is a journey towards Easter, but it brings us first to the cross. It is a difficult journey on which, like Jesus and with Jesus, we will be put to the test. But the entrance antiphon speaks the words of God the Father: When he calls on me, I will answer him; I will deliver him and give him glory, I will grant him length of days. This is the promise of God: to answer when we call, to deliver us and give us glory, and to grant us length of days. These words are fulfilled supremely in Jesus: although his journey led to the cross, and although he even felt himself abandoned by God for a time, God delivered him in a way that goes beyond all human imagining, delivering him from death itself, giving him eternal glory, and granting him “length of days” in heavenly splendour. We who are in Jesus can also apply these words to ourselves, both as the Body of Christ and as individuals.
The prospect of a Lenten desert journey may rightly cause us some apprehension. The desert will bring us face to face with our demons. But unless we face them, they have the upper hand, they conquer. If we face them and call on the power of God to overcome them, we have the assurance that God will answer us and ultimately grant us deliverance, glory, and length of days.
Here is the Latin chant version of this antiphon:
You can hear it sung here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHUPpGDCHfI (The Graduale Project)