Singing before the Divine Liturgy

The public part of the Divine Liturgy begins with the priest's blessing: "Blessed is the Kingdom..." But in our church, it is customary to have at least some singing before this point, to establish an atmosphere of piety and devotion, and to warm up the voices of the cantor(s) and people.

According to the Cantor's Companion (2006):

The custom of singing hymns before and after the Divine Liturgy is greatly beloved by the faithful of the Byzantine Catholic Church, and is encouraged.

When selecting a hymn or hymns to be sung prior to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the text of the hymn should reflect the propers of the Divine Liturgy for that day, the season in which the Divine Liturgy is taking place, or the time of day at which the Divine Liturgy is being celebrated. Hymns are to be theologically consistent with the spirituality of the Byzantine Church. The music of the hymn must work as an unaccompanied and unharmonized piece of music—its melody should be one that can be effectively sung in unison by the faithful. (This is not to imply that hymnody must be unharmonized.)

Singing before the Divine Liturgy may continue through the opening incensation of the church, but should come to an end by the time the priest is ready to give the opening blessing.

Liturgical hymns

Pages 451-461 of the Divine Liturgies book contain a selection of hymns from liturgical and scriptural sources, which were commended by the bishops for use before or after the Divine Liturgy:

There are other options for liturgical hymns as well. Stichera from Vespers, or a portion of the canon from the day's Matins, could be sung before the start of the Divine Liturgy by the cantors. Of course, the faithful will only be able to participate if they have texts in front of them, or if they have memorized them from frequent use. Still the music for these hymns is fairly straightforward when led by a trained cantor, and these changeable hymns can present the theology of the day's celebration in advance of the Divine Liturgy.

Non-liturgical hymns or "spiritual songs"

A more common choice for the time before the Divine Liturgy is the singing of non-liturgical hymns (sometimes called "paraliturgical hymns") or spiritual songs, of which our church has a wide selection. These include:

A number of these hymns have been collected into the Byzantine Catholic Hymnal, and a second volume contains newly-composed hymns that match the Gospel reading of each Sunday. Work on a new hymnal is in progress.

One particularly traditional opening hymn in our church is Vosel jesi archiejereju, or "You have entered, O High Priest." Although is originally came from a Latin processional hymn for the entry of a bishop, it became a common opening hymn for the Divine Liturgy. Work on a suitable English version is in progress.

A few cautions:

But even with these considerations, the choice of two or three non-liturgical hymns can provide a good deal of congregational singing and prayer before the start of the Divine Liturgy.

Another liturgical service

A third possibility is the celebration of another service immediately before the Divine Liturgy - for example:

The Hours require little from the priest, so some parishes celebrate these services before the Divine Liturgy while confessions are being heard.


Finally, many of the psalms are suitable for congregational or solo chanting before the Divine Liturgy; as with the Hours, this singing can also "cover" confessions if they are being heard. For feast days, select a psalm appropriate to the feast (for example, you might chant the complete psalms that are quoted in the day's antiphons or prokeimena and Alleluia verses). Avoid Psalm 148, since this Psalm is used very often at Holy Communion.