In the Divine Service, the Introit follows the Confession and Absolution. The Introit is usually a portion of a psalm, surrounded by an antiphon, a short verse sung before and after. However, there are some historic introit texts taken from books such as Isaiah and Proverbs, some New Testament texts, and even from the Apocrypha (intertestamental writings). It is the first of the “propers,” texts that change from week to week. The choice of text usually connects to the Gospel and the main theme of the Divine Service.
The purpose of the Introit pertained to movement. The word “introit” means “entrance.” The original use of the introit was for movement, for the pastor and liturgical assistants to take their places in the chancel. I often use it as a brief time of movement as well, moving from the steps outside the chancel to the Sedalia (the seat by the lectern). Regular use of the Introit in the liturgy of the Divine Service dates back to the time of Gregory (ca. 540-604). That means that the Church has been making use of the Introit for nearly 1500 years.
Particularly during festival seasons of the church year, the name of a given Sunday is taken from the first word of the Introit (in Latin, of course). That gives us Sundays like Populus Zion, “People of Zion,” the name of the 2nd Sunday in Advent. It comes from Psalm 30.
At Zion we usually sing the Introit. Psalms (the primary content of the introits) were the ancient hymnbook of the Israelites. How fitting it is then for us to sing/chant them as well. Our practice is to chant the Introit responsively by whole verse. I like that kind of back and forth exchange between pastor and people. However, the introit could also by sung in unison either by the pastor, the congregation or even a choir. In fact, choirs played a significant role in such parts of the liturgy at the time the introit became a regular part of the Divine Service.
Before the repetition of the antiphon, the Introit closes out with the Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.). It serves as a little doxology (verse of praise) at the close of the Introit. It recognizes that the verses of the Introit, primarily Old Testament, are fulfilled in the New Testament.
Next time we chant the Introit, perhaps you will think about it differently than you have before. There is meaning and purpose in the liturgy of the Divine Service. It has taken shape over centuries of the Church’s worship life. With the use of Psalms, you have the comfort that God’s people have sung and prayed these words for thousands of years. Their prayers have meaning in your life. The same sorrows and joys which shape the worship and prayer lives of those saints who have gone before us also shape our worship and prayer lives. The Word of God is timeless. It transcends culture. It powerful, living and active and still speaks God’s Truth. Thanks be to God!
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