Precentor

Precentor (Gr. πρωτοψάτης, κανονάρχα; Lat. domesticus cutorum; Fr. gruand chant-re; Sp. chantre, or capis col) was in the ancient and mediaeval churches the person who led the singing. He generally commenced the verse of the psalm, and the people joined him in the close. The versicles were divided into two parts, and sung alternately, the singers answering to one another; but ordinarily the precentor commenced, and the people joined in the middle, and sometimes at the end of the verse. This was called singing acrostics. SEE ACROSTICS. The precentor was the dignitary collated by the diocesan and charged with the conduct of the musical portion of divine service, and required on great festivals and Sundays to commence the responses, hymns, etc., to regulate processions, to distribute the copes, to correct offences in choir, and to direct the singers. In France, England, Germany, and Spain he ranked next to the dean. He gave the note at mass to the bishop and dean as the succentor did to the canons and clerks. He superintended the admission of members of the choir and tabled their names for the weekly course on waxen tablets. He corrected and had charge of the choir books. In England when he ruled the choir he wore a rochet, cantel or cantor's cope, ring, and gloves, and carried a staff; and the rectors followed him in soutanes (often of red color), surplices, and copes. He installed canons at Exeter, at York the dean and dignitaries, and at Lichfield the bishop and dignitaries. He attended the bishop on the left hand, as the dean walked on the prelate's right hand. At Paris he exercised jurisdiction over all the schools and teachers in the city and respondents in the universities. In French cathedrals, upon high festivals he presides over the choir at the lectern, and carries a baton of silver as the ensign of his dignity. At Rodez, Puy-en-Velay, and Brionde he, like the other canons, wears a miter at high mass, and at Cologne was known as chorepiscopus. At Chartres during Easter week all the capitular clergy go to the font, with the subchanter preceding the junior canons, carrying white Wands, in allusion to the white robes of the baptized. At Rouen the chanter carries a white wand in certain processions, and no one without his leave could open a song-school in the city. In England his stall faces the dean, being on the northwest. In foreign cathedrals he occupied either the same position or sat next to the dean. The Greek precentor at Christmas wore white, and the singers violet. The exarch was the imperial protospaltes. The dignity of precentor was founded at Amiens in 1219; at Rouen in 1110; at Exeter, Salisbury, York, Lincoln, in the 11th century; at Chichester, Wells, Lichfield, Hereford, in the 12th; and at St. Paul's in the 13th century. The precentor was required to be always resident, and usually held a prebend with his dignity. The Clugniac precentor was called armaius because he was also librarian the treasurer being aprocrisiarius. The singers of the primitive Church were regarded as a minor order by pope Innocent III, by the Council of Laodicea (360), and by that of Trullo. When the service of song was entrusted to lay persons in course of time, the title ('. chanter was preserved in cathedral chapters and collegiate churches as that of a capitular dignitary, having precedency, rights, and duties.

In modern times the name is applied to those who, in non-ritualistic churches, lead the congregation in singing. This office, lately revived, appears, from Bingham's Antiquities, to be of a very early date; the precentor, or phonascus (q.v.), as he was called in the early Church, either leading the congregation, or singing one part of the verse, the other part being sung by the congregation in response. See Music. In the mediaeval churches the precentor was one of the officers belonging to the old religious houses, whose office was afterwards continued in collegiate and cathedral churches in the capacity above first referred to. In Scotland the duties of the precentor have been greatly curtailed. He seems to have succeeded to the reader (q.v.) of earlier times. It was the habit of the precentor to repair to church about half an hour before the minister came, and read to the people several passages of Scripture. When the minister entered the precentor gave out a psalm and led the singing. After the beginning of last century he ceased by degrees either to read the Scriptures or prescribe the psalm. But his desk is still, from its original use, called by the old people the lectern-that is, reading desk. — Walcott, Sacred Archaeology, s.v.; Hook, Eccles. Dict. s.v.; Eadie, Eccles. Dict. s.v. SEE DESK; SEE LECTERN; SEE SINGING; SEE STAFF; SEE WORSHIP.

Definition of preception

 
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