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Liturgical Singing 9: 

Choir and Congregation

Part 2

Choir and Congregation: Liturgical Components and Discrepancies As They Relate to the Restoration of Congregational Singing in Orthodox Christian Worship



by Mark Bailey 

A functional distinction between choir and congregation allows this analysis to consider liturgical format and texts directly, and then to outline the essential roles that liturgy ordains both to perform. Even a cursory view of liturgical structure indicates distinct role playing at different levels. A closer look reveals the characteristics of these roles apart and together. In the end, taking these analytical discoveries into account, with the original liturgical premise in mind, the following list describes those liturgical components which the congregation should perform: 


“Amen” – This word is one of the earliest and most essential forms of Christian response in worship. It unifies the gathered assembly in thought and affirmation by punctuating liturgical statements and acts. As early as 150, Justin of Samaria, in his Apologia, describes the following aspect of Christian Eucharistic celebration in its earliest and most primitive stages: 

Then all stand up together and recite prayers … the bread and wine mixed with water have been brought, and the president offers up prayers and thanksgiving, as much as in him lies. The people chime in with an “Amen.”


Justin underscores this anaphoral “Amen,” which confirms, in essence, the Consecration of the Holy Gifts for the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ. As the importance of congregational agreement and confirmation is also reflected in other sections of the Liturgy, one realizes that “Amen” should essentially be sung, in each case, by the gathered assembly.


“And to Your Spirit” – This is the response of the congregation to the ecclesiastical greeting “Peace be unto All.” Historically, it reflects the way in which Christ greeted his disciples; liturgically, it most often appears as a preface to an important liturgical act. The first greeting the assembly encounters in the Liturgy, which, by tradition, the appointed Reader now responds to, originally indicated that the Liturgy of the Word was under way, and that the first scriptural readings were about to begin.3 One also encounters the greeting before the Gospel is read, before the Kiss of Peace, before the Consecration of the Holy Gifts, before the Lord’s Prayer, before the Communion of the Faithful, and before the faithful depart from the church. As the greeting is offered to the assembly, then, logically, the assembly should respond. 


“Alleluia” – Another ancient form of cultic expression. this word, usually uttered three times in succession, serves in antiphonal psalmody, for instance, as the refrain (often the final refrain) of the assembly. Joyful in character, it was most liturgically prominent in early Byzantine worship as the people’s refrain to the cathedral entrance antiphon, and to the procession of the Holy Gifts, known as the Great Entrance. It was also featured as the final refrain to the Communion Psalm. Throughout history, however. musical evolution has rendered “Alleluia” settings, on the whole, melismatic and difficult for the entire assembly to sing. Musical simplification, at least before the Gospel is read, would return this refrain to the assembly, where it belongs.


“Lord Have Mercy,” “Grant It, 0 Lord,” “To Thee, 0 Lord,” “And All Mankind.” – As responses to petitions uttered by deacons, these phrases affirm and punctuate the supplications of the assembly. Therefore, petitionary prayer in liturgy is the combined effort of the clergy and the people. It represents one unified voice and mind of prayer, and it is natural for the entire assembly to sing these responses.


The Anaphora – At least to the singing of the thrice holy hymn, the Anaphora is executed as a dialogue between the people and the celebrant. Uniquely conversational, the text maintains the celebrant and assembly equally, where both play roles as liturgical commentators on Eucharistic preparation. 

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