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Introit(i) (from Lat. introitus)locked

  • James W. McKinnon

The first of the Proper or variable chants of the Mass. It is sung, as its name suggests, during the entrance of the celebrant and his ministers at the beginning of the Mass.

1. Definition.

The 8th-century Ordines romani describe the introit as an antiphon and psalm that was sung by the Schola Cantorum as the pope moved in procession down the centre of the basilica from the secretarium (a room near the entrance where he vested) to a position before the main altar. According to Ordo romanus I, when the pope arrived at the altar he nodded to the singers, who then broke off chanting the psalm to conclude with the Gloria Patri and a final repetition of the antiphon. Outside Rome, in subsequent centuries, the practice of singing a full psalm was replaced by the singing of a single verse, the probable reason being that the celebrant approached the altar from a sacristy in the vicinity of the sanctuary rather than from the secretarium at the church's entrance as at Rome. The verse sung was generally the first available from the relevant psalm, for example, the second verse if the antiphon itself derived its text from the first verse, or the first verse if the antiphon used a later verse or a text from some other source. A frequently encountered peculiarity in the early history of the introit is the versus ad repetendum, that is, the repetition of the one of the psalm verses after the Gloria patri and before the final repetition of the antiphon.

2. Origins.

There is no evidence for the existence of the introit or of any other entrance chant in the Mass of the early Christian period. On the contrary there are passages from both St John Chrysostom in the East In epistolam ad Colossos (Homily III.4) and St Augustine in the West (De civitate Dei, xx.8) that describe the ceremony as beginning immediately with the readings after a brief greeting from the celebrant; Augustine spoke of a crowded church on the morning of Easter: ‘I greeted the throng, and when all had become silent there was solemn reading from the Holy Scriptures’. It was not until the late 5th or early 6th century that an entrance chant, the Trisagion, was introduced at Constantinople. In subsequent centuries the Trisagion came to be preceded by a set of three Ordinary antiphons, and was itself replaced on feasts of the Saviour by the antiphon Hosoi eis Christon, and on feasts of the Holy Cross by Ton stauron, but Constantinople never adopted the Roman practice of a Proper chant that varied with each date in the calendar. As for Rome, it was long thought that a passage in the Liber pontificalis described the introduction by Pope Celestine I (d 432) of an antiphonal introit psalm: ‘Constituit ut psalmi David CL ante sacrificium psalli antiphanatim ex omnibus, quod ante non fiebat, nisi tantum epistula beati Pauli recitabatur et sanctum Evangelium’. The passage, however, was edited in the second quarter of the 6th century (with the addition of ‘antiphanatim ex omnibus’) to reflect the practice of that time, and more importantly appears to refer to the gradual psalm rather than to the introit.

It is not known, then, precisely when the introit was introduced at Rome, only that it was some time before the end of the 7th century; Ordo romanus I shows it well established in the stational liturgy by then. Its origins are a matter for conjecture. In all probability its introduction is somehow related to the stational liturgy, fulfilling the need to provide a musical accompaniment to the solemn entrance of the pope into the stational church of the day; while the form that it assumed, that is, an antiphonal psalm, may have been influenced by the antiphonal psalmody of the Roman basilican monasteries.

An entrance chant of some sort came to be adopted in virtually all the early medieval Western liturgies. The Expositio of Pseudo-Germanus, describing, it is thought, an early 7th-century Burgundian liturgy, mentions an antiphona ad prelegendum without further description. This liturgy displays both Eastern and Hispanic traits so that the antiphona in question might have been either an Ordinary item like the Byzantine chant or a Proper item like the Mozarabic chant. The Mozarabic entrance chant, the officium, is similar to the Roman in that it has a large repertory of Proper antiphons sung in conjunction with psalm verses. The Ambrosian ingressa (as well as its Beneventan counterpart of the same name) was also a Proper antiphon, but it lacked the accompanying psalm verses.

3. Repertory and texts.

There is a ‘core repertory’ of 145 introits, that is, those chants that were both in use at Rome during the mid-8th century and adopted at that time by the Franks. Additionally, there are four Roman introits that do not appear in the earliest Frankish sources, and six others that make their first appearance in the 9th-century Frankish manuscripts (see §5 for a discussion of these ten chants).

Introits have a fairly high proportion of non-psalmic texts; they are surpassed in this respect within the Mass Proper only by the Communion. Of the 145 core repertory chants, 101 have psalmic texts and 44 non-psalmic, one of which, Salus populi, can be classified as non-biblical, even if it is inspired by the language of the psalms. Within the Temporale 31 chants have non-psalmic texts and 70 psalmic. The non-psalmic texts are concentrated especially within the two major festal portions of the ecclesiastical year, the Advent–Christmas season and Paschaltide. In the Advent–Christmas season there are ten non-psalmic and only eight psalmic introits, and during Paschaltide ten non-psalmic and 11 psalmic (including one on the penitential date of the Greater Litany). Of the 37 Lenten introits (including those of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays) only six are non-psalmic, all of which appear on days of special significance: Misereris omnium (Wisdom xi.24–7) on Ash Wednesday; Laetare hierusalem (Isaiah lxvi.10–11) on Laetare Sunday, a day of rejoicing during Lent; Nos autem (Galatians vi.14) and In nomine Domini (2 Philippians xviii.8 and 7) during Holy Week; and Dum sanctificatus (Ezekiel xxxvi.23–6) and Sitientes venite (Isaiah xv.1) on days associated with the pre-baptismal Scrutinium.

It would seem, then, that non-psalmic texts were generally chosen for the introits of dates of particular significance, a pattern that can be observed also within the Sanctorale with chants such as De ventre matris (Isaiah xlix.1–2) on the feast of St John the Baptist and Scio cui credidi (2 Timothy i.12) on the feast of St Paul. The use of non-psalmic texts for dates of special significance raises an interesting chronological question. Peter Wagner maintained that non-psalmic introits were generally older than psalmic ones because they appear on the most venerable feast days of the calendar. More recently, however, liturgical historians such as Antoine Chavasse have tended to look upon chants of the Mass Proper with non-psalmic texts as representative of a later chronological layer. Yet it could be that in the case of introits neither position is applicable. If, as might well be the case, the bulk of the introit repertory was created after the time that non-psalmic texts had come into regular use for chants, then the employment of non-psalmic texts might be entirely lacking in chronological significance and might simply indicate the greater care taken in selecting texts for dates of special significance.

4. Musical style.

The introit psalm verse is sung to a set of eight psalm tones that are generally similar to those of Office psalmody but somewhat more elaborate. The first half of the verse, like a verse of Office psalmody, has an opening intonation figure and a closing cadential figure; while the second half of the verse, in this case unlike Office psalmody, has an opening figure in addition to the closing figure. (Some manuscripts provide closing figures of trope-like elaboration for special occasions.) The introit psalm tones are applied in a unique tri-partite manner to the concluding Gloria Patri. The middle part of the text, ‘sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper’, begins with the opening figure of the second half of the tone but ends with the closing figure of the first half. Communions and introits share this same set of psalm tones.

The Gregorian introit melodies are remarkably homogeneous in style; they do not vary in length nearly so much as communion antiphons, neither do they manifest the same degree of variation in melodic elaboration. Rather, they display a consistently neumatic style, with groups of between two and five notes on considerably more than half of a text's syllables. Thus they are much more elaborate than the typical Office antiphon, where the majority of the syllables are set to a single note.

Most introits have groups of repeated notes, either on F or, more often, on the C above. Observing this phenomenon and noting that several of the introit psalm tones recite on C, Apel was prompted to seek the origins of the introit antiphon in its psalm tone. However, F and C are the only notes subject to this sort of repetition, even when an introit's psalm tone recites on some other pitch, for example, on A. This would seem to suggest that F and C are pitches of special significance, whatever the mode of an introit, each functioning as a sort of tonal horizon. And the fact that several of the psalm tones recite on C would seem only to highlight the tonal significance of that pitch. This conclusion does not entirely preclude some sort of fundamental musical relationship between an introit antiphon and its psalm tone, but it does make it unlikely that the antiphon melody evolved as an elaborated psalm tone, particularly since the outline of the psalm tone, namely, a pair of recitative-like phrases, each with an opening and closing figure, is not at all apparent in the typical introit.

Connolly, also searching for the introit antiphon's musical origins, conducted a thorough comparison of the Old Roman and Gregorian melodies. He confirmed the general belief that the two bodies of chant were fundamentally related, but made the further observation that Old Roman introits were considerably more formulaic. He concluded from this that the Old Roman melodies, in their presently preserved state, must be closer than their Gregorian counterparts to the original melodies, which, he maintained, must have been still more formulaic in character. It may, however, be equally plausible that the Roman melodies, in the course of more than three centuries of oral transmission, lost a considerable measure of their variety and individuality, as different generations of singers sought to maintain control over the repertory.

The individuality of the Gregorian introits may be their most remarkable trait. All 145 melodies of the core repertory are unique, that is, no melody is shared by two or more chants, even if there is a strong resemblance between the opening portions of Da pacem and Statuit. It is true that many introits share opening and cadential formulae; several mode-1 introits, for example, begin with the striking figure illustrated in ex.1a; while the closing cadential figure of Domine in tua illustrated in ex.1b is found in several mode-5, 6, 7 and 8 introits. Such formulae, however, are encountered not only in introits but in most chant genres. ‘Formula’, perhaps, is not the best term for them; they might better be described as ‘motifs’ that serve to make up the common melodic language of Gregorian chant.

Exx.1a and b

To summarize the musical evidence of the core repertory, it might be said that introits are puzzling by their very perfection; they lack the peculiarities of the other items of the Mass Proper that provide internal evidence of chronological layering. They are homogeneous in style, yet each is an individual melody. There is, moreover, a uniquely assigned introit for virtually every date in the Temporale and for a large proportion of the Sanctorale; this is a quality shared only with communions, whereas graduals, alleluias and offertories require much internal sharing to complete their annual cycles. And while the authors of the communion Temporale and Sanctorale resorted to the strategem of borrowing substantial numbers of Office responsories and antiphons, every introit appears to have been created with only a single purpose in mind. The mark of this borrowing by communions is the stylistic heterogeneity that the communion genre manifests in contrast to the introit's stylistic homogeneity. The individuality of each introit melody distinguishes the genre from graduals and especially from alleluias with their substantial use of model melodies. And finally introits lack entirely the sort of musical and textual layering that characterizes at least some portion of more than one of the other genres' annual cycles: for example, the alleluia's consistent use of its model melodies, particularly the Dies sanctificatus type, during Christmastide and on Paschaltide festal dates; the gradual's sequence of mode-2 followed by mode-5 melodies during the Advent–Christmas season; and the communion's use of Prophetic texts during Advent and on Christmas Day, and its sudden change to gospel texts for the post-Christmas dates. If such peculiarities of the other items of the Mass Proper indicate chronological layering, perhaps it can be said that their total absence in the introit suggests that the final state of the genre – whatever its use of earlier material – was achieved as the result of a single concentrated creative effort.

5. Later history.

In addition to the 145 core repertory introits there are four Roman chants that do not appear in the earliest Frankish sources and six in the early Frankish sources that were added to the Roman corpus. The four Roman chants are Deus Israhel for the Missa sponsalica (Nuptial Mass); Rogamus te Domine for the Missa pro defunctis (Mass for the Dead); Benedicet te hodie for the Ordinatio episcoporum; and Elegit te Dominus for the Ordinatio pontificorum. The latter two chants, while absent from the very earliest (unnotated) Frankish sources, begin to make their appearance in manuscripts of the late 9th century (both appear, for example, in the Silvanectensis manuscript of Hesbert's Antiphonale missarum sextuplex). In the following centuries, however, their appearance remains sporadic, suggesting that they never became part of the standard repertory. The other two chants, Deus Israhel and Rogamus te Domine, are even less well represented in the Frankish and later Gregorian sources. Deus Israhel is entirely absent from the published sources. Rogamus te Domine, while absent from the unnotated 9th-century graduals, does make an appearance in a small minority of Gregorian manuscripts; among the published sources it can be found in non-diastematic notation in F-CHRm 47 and I-Ra 123, and in diastematic notation in I-BV 40. The presence of Rogamus te Domine in scattered 10th- and 11th-century manuscripts, when considered in view of its absence from 9th-century Frankish manuscripts, raises interesting questions of transmission.

More interesting, perhaps, are the six chants added by the Franks to accommodate their expansion of the Roman liturgical calendar: Benedicta sit for the feast of the Blessed Trinity; Memento nostri for the fourth Sunday of Advent; Narrabo nomen tuum for the Vigil of the Ascension; Omnes gentes for the Vigil of Pentecost and the seventh Sunday after Pentecost; Probasti Domine for the Octave of Saint Laurence; and Sicut fui for the Natale pontificorum. The least problematic of these is Benedicta sit, a very precise contrafactum of Invocabit me, the introit for Quadragesima Sunday; it was added to the repertory in the 9th century as introit for the newly created feast of the Trinity and appeared thereafter in virtually all Gregorian sources. Its prominence has influenced some scholars to state that all new Frankish introits were similarly adapted from pre-existent chants, but this is not the case. There is no contrafactum for Memento nostri, the introit for the fourth Sunday of Advent, a chant made necessary by the addition of this Sunday (a ‘Dominica vacat’ at Rome) to the Frankish liturgy; neither is there one for Omnes gentes, even though its opening phrase has the same melody as the opening phrase of Viri Galilei, an early Frankish offertory for the Ascension.

Memento nostri and Omnes gentes, while both apparently original Frankish melodies, display different degrees of melodic stability in the later sources. It might be assumed that Frankish additions to the repertory would be less stable than items from the original repertory. Omnes gentes, however, is remarkably stable, while Memento nostri, though appearing consistently with substantially the same melody, manifests considerably more melodic variation than the typical introit. Various hypothetical explanations for this difference may be proposed, for instance, that the exceedingly clear tonal orientation of the mode-6 Omnes gentes assured its stability, or that its earlier establishment in the repertory than Memento nostri did so. Probasti Domine, however, the introit for the Octave of St Laurence, conforms to neither of these explanations. It appears in the earliest Frankish sources, manifests a clear mode-7 tonality, and is even based upon an earlier chant, the introit In virtute tua for the feast of St Valentine. Yet it is radically unstable in the later sources, with at least three distinct melodies, or, perhaps better, three different arrangements of the same typical mode-7 phrases (the beginning of each is illustrated in ex.2).

Sicut fui, introit for the Natale pontificorum, has a similar history in the Gregorian sources to that of the Frankish-Roman Benedicet te hodie for the Ordinatio episcoporum and Elegit for the Ordinatio pontificorum; appearing first in the late 9th century, it is found thereafter only sporadically. That the three chants have similar assignments, namely, as common chants for either episcopal or pontifical occasions, suggests that there might be some liturgical reason for their similar histories. Narrabo nomen tuum, finally, is a curiosity among the Frankish additions to the introit repertory. It appears within the early unnotated sources only in the eccentric Rheinau manuscript, where it serves as the introit for the Vigil of the Ascension instead of the more usual Omnes gentes. Its melody may be lost since the only published source that has it is the non-diastematic I-Ra 123.

Introits continued to be added to the repertory after the 9th century, largely to accommodate new sanctoral dates and votive Masses. Nevertheless, there is considerable regional variation in the number of additions. Sources that follow the East Frankish tradition, for example, provide virtually no introits beyond those added by the mid-9th century, while Beneventan and especially Aquitanian sources supply them in abundance. Salve sancta parens for the votive Mass of the Virgin Mary makes its appearance in a large number of 11th- and 12th-century sources. It is very closely modelled on the introit for the Epiphany, Ecce advenit, which, again, has prompted some to conclude that late introits were generally contrafacta of chants from the core repertory. However, the majority of the later introits were newly composed, and those that are based on earlier models, for example, Vir Dei benedictus (the mode-6 version) on Os iusti and Domine dilexi decorem on Domine ne longe facias, do not follow their models as precisely as does Salve sancta parens.

The history of the plainchant introit in the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance has yet to be written; it is not possible to venture even the broadest generalizations about it. Among the later developments involving the introit, the most significant may have been the composition of introit tropes, a practice that flourished between the 10th and 12th centuries. During the 15th and 16th centuries German composers in particular created polyphonic settings of the Mass Proper that included introits; the most outstanding examples of these were collected in the Choralis constantinus of Heinrich Isaac. More common, perhaps, were transcriptions of the Gregorian introits into the vernacular by reformist congregations; there are German, English and Finnish examples of this practice, and most notably Czech examples produced by the Utraquist party (see the splendidly illuminated manuscript A-Wa 15503). It is worthy of mention, finally, that from the Middle Ages into modern times the Sundays of the ecclesiastical year were frequently referred to by reference to their introit – thus Laetare Sunday or Quasimodo Sunday.


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