RESPONSORY, a form of liturgical chant wherein a cantor says verses of the Psalms and the whole group of cantors or the congregation responds with a refrain. This refrain may take one of several forms: (1) it may be one fixed word, such as "Alleluia," in the psalmody of the Coptic month of Kiyahk; (2) it may be a fixed group of words, such as "For His mercy endures forever"; "O Lord Jesus Christ help me" in the Sunday psalmody; or "My Lord Jesus Christ, my good Savior" in the Saturday psalmody; (3) it may be a short petition, such as "Restore us, O God, and let Thy face shine, that we may be saved," which recurs three times in Psalm 80, or "Lord have mercy" (Kyrie Eleison), which is reiterated throughout the Divine Liturgy.
The choice of the appropriate category of liturgical chant— tractus (where a single cantor sings and the congregation listens), antiphon (where two alternating groups of singers take their turns), or responsory—depends primarily on the particular time of the day or night when it is to be used. Thus, at vespers, which is a comparatively short service, the tractus system is the one usually followed, whereas in long night vigils, the responsory proves to be more suitable.
It may be of particular interest to mention in this respect, that when in February 356 a military detachment invaded the church where Saint ATHANASIUS was celebrating a vigil service, the congregation was asked to join in a responsory. Here is the episode in full in the words of Athanasius, taken from his "Apologia de fuga" (Apology for Flight):
It was night, and some of the people were keeping vigil, for a communion was expected. A body of soldiers suddenly advanced upon them, consisting of a general [Syrianus] and five thousand armed men with naked swords, bows and arrows and clubs. . . . I deemed that I ought not in such a time of confusion to leave the people, but that I
ought rather to be the first to meet the danger; so I sat down on my throne and desired the deacon to read a psalm, and the people to respond "For His mercy endureth forever." Then I bade them all return to their own houses. But now the general with the soldiery forced his way into the church, and surrounded the sanctuary in order to arrest me. The clergy and the laity who had remained clamorously besought me to withdraw. This I firmly refused to do until all the others had retreated. I rose, had a prayer offered, and directed all the people to retire. "It is better," said I, "for me to meet the danger alone, than for any of you to be hurt." When the greater number of the people had left the church, and just as the rest were following, the monks and some of the clergy who had remained came up and drew me out. And so, may the truth be my witness, the Lord leading and protecting me, we passed through the midst of the soldiers, some of whom were stationed around the sanctuary, and others marching about the church.
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