February 1, 2018

Gospel Acclamation: Alleluia


The Gospel Acclamation – Alleluia

 

The history of the acclamation that comes before the Gospel is incredibly varied. Several goals need to be achieved:

  1. First of all, the Gospel, as the ‘ipissima verba” the very words of Christ needs to be set off from the other readings.
  2. Second, there is a need to make sure the people are paying attention, and so a call to silence in some form is important.
  3. Next, outside of the Lenten season the joy of greeting the risen Lord in the word of the Gospel, for when the Scriptures are read in church, and especially the Gospel, “It is Christ himself who speaks.”
  4. Finally, although this is not always the case, there may be a procession as the Book of Gospels makes its way from the altar, where it was placed in the opening rites, to the ambo, where the book is opened and the words brought to life through the ministry of the deacon or in his absence, the priest.

How the acclamation has changed over time

Certainly from the period when the Roman Missal was published after the Council of Trent, the number of readings at Sunday Mass had been reduced to two, much like what we have at most weekday celebrations. In spite of this there was a vestige of a Psalm, called the Gradual (named because it was sung from the gradus – the step – of the ambo), and then a short Alleluia verse. This has always been an awkward juxtaposition, and the two did not necessarily have any relationship, but the Gospel Acclamation was present. In Lent (dealt with elsewhere) the alleluia was a verse called a tractus.

Renè-Jean Hesbert, in his Antiphonale Missarum Sextuplex, still the authoritative collection of antiphons, suggests that the antiphon verses used with the Alleluia at the Gospel Acclamation were to be chosen freely. But this does not mean that the Gospel Acclamation was unimportant. This acclamation was considered a moment of freedom in the Mass, where tropes (verses) could be added at will, and where polyphonic singing first entered the celebration, especially on the wonderful ‘a’ at the end of Alleluia.

The Alleluia and its verse got more and more complicated, and when liturgical purists suggested that there should be only one note per syllable in the verses, poems, what we now call the Sequence, developed. These eventually became metrical hymns and started to dominate this moment in the liturgy. Joseph Jungmann in his Mass of the Roman Rite notes that over 5,000 sequences have been collected from various Missals. With the reform of the Council of Trent, only 4(!) were kept, one for Easter, Pentecost, The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, and Our Lady of Sorrows. These 4 remained after the reform in 1968, and are currently to be sung before the Alleluia.

Today's Gospel Acclamation rules

Speaking of that reform, what are the rules around the Gospel Acclamation today? It is interesting that the Introduction to the Lectionary refers to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (#63 in the current edition) where it notes that the Gospel Acclamation is a rite unto itself. It is a celebration of the arrive of Jesus Christ into our midst by means of his word proclaimed by the Deacon or Priest. The rite instruction goes on to note that the acclamation is a creedal statement – a statement of faith in Jesus.

The verses are to be those used by the Lectionary – either the one appointed to the day or the season – or the similar text as taken from the Graduale Romanum. If the Acclamation is not sung, it may be omitted, at least in those cases where there is only one reading before the Gospel. But for Sunday and Holy Day celebrations the expectation is that it is always to be present, and always sung.

Choosing your settings

Pastorally, having a fairly small group of settings for the Gospel Acclamation is probably a good idea, perhaps one per season. I love a strong, almost bell-ringing feel to the Alleluia for Christmas and Easter, while a simpler form, that still maintains the notion of the Gospel Acclamation as a statement of faith is great for Advent and Ordinary Time. Just be sure that should you have a true procession at this point in the liturgy, that the Deacon or Priest is not marching around in silence. That’s not how the liturgy is meant to unfold.

So that’s a few words on the Gospel Acclamation, this fascinating part of the Mass, with a rich and colorful history.

 

Glenn CJ Byer
Glenn CJ Byer

Glenn CJ Byer has written widely on the liturgy, including articles on the meaning of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, marriage preparation, the renovation of churches and the anointing of the sick. He speaks widely on the role of lay ministers in the Mass.

This blog series is intended to provide a more in-depth look at the various sung parts of the Mass—their origin, history, current usage, etc. Explore more from this series:

 

For a comprehensive list of the 60+ Mass settings OCP provides visit our main Mass settings page HERE.