They should not be confused with Marian antiphons or processional antiphons.
A refrain is needed when a chant consists of alternating verses (usually sung by a cantor) and responds (usually sung by the congregation).
The looser term antiphony is generally used for any call and response style of singing, such as the kirtan or the sea shanty. Antiphonal music is that performed by two choirs in interaction, often singing alternate musical phrases. Antiphonal psalmody is the singing or musical playing of psalms by alternating groups of performers. The term “antiphony” can also refer to a choir-book containing antiphons.
The 'mirror' structure of Hebrew psalms renders it probable that the antiphonal method was present in the services of the ancient Israelites. According to the historian Socrates of Constantinople, antiphony was introduced into Christian worship by Ignatius of Antioch (died 107), who saw a vision of two choirs of angels.
Antiphons have remained an integral part of the worship in the Byzantine and Armenian Rite. The practice was not found in the Latin Church until more than two centuries later. Ambrose and Gregory the Great, who are known for their contributions to the formulation of Gregorian chant, are credited with 'antiphonaries', collections of works suitable for antiphon, which are still used in the Roman Catholic Church today.