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February 23, 2018

Lenten Gospel Acclamation


The Gospel Acclamation – Lenten Gospel Acclamation

 

What is the Lenten Gospel Acclamation?

During Lent, the Gospel Acclamation takes on a special form, It is chosen from one of 8 refrains, followed by a verse. The refrains are all forms of praise to Jesus, and the verses are normally from the scriptures, and often from the Psalter. These replace the Alleluia and the verse that are used at this moment of the liturgy during the rest of the year.

Options for lenten acclamations

The following is a list of the eight options available for the Lenten Gospel Acclamation which are not found in the official translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, but in the Lectionary. You will find the verses for the Lenten Gospel Acclamation where you might expect to within the Sunday or Weekday Lectionary. However, if you are looking for the following eight options for the refrain within the Lectionary you will need to open your Weekday Lectionary to the first Monday of Lent and turn back one page.

  • Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
  • Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ, Wisdom of God the Father!
  • Glory to you, Word of God, Lord Jesus Christ!
  • Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God!
  • Praise and honor to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
  • Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory!
  • Marvelous and great are your works, O Lord!
  • Salvation, glory, and power to the Lord Jesus Christ

Why change the verse before the Gospel?

Everyone knows that Christians give up the singing of the Alleluia during Lent. Everyone knows that it is a universal custom that reaches back to the early Church. And everyone knows that we do this because Lent is supposed to be a time of sadness. This would neatly explain why instead of the Alleluia we have the “Verse before the Gospel” during Lent.

This all makes sense, and it is the experience that many of us grew up with. Except that this is all incorrect. It is not a universal custom, nor is it especially ancient, and it certainly isn’t about being sad. So if we want to understand the “Verse before the Gospel“ we need to take this custom apart and see what the Lenten Gospel Acclamation is all about.

Western Christianity and Eastern Orthodox Churches

First of all, the custom of not singing Alleluia during Lent is a custom in Western Christianity. In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, not only is the Alleluia sung, to this day it is sung more often in Lent, since there are more prayers, and so more opportunity to sing it. Even in the Roman churches of the west, Alleluia was still sung during Lent for the first 600 years. Saint Augustine writes about singing the Alleluia all through Lent. It is only gradually, and under the influence of non-Roman sources that the omission of the Alleluia during Lent became the law.

Finding joy between Ash Wednesday and the Easter Vigil

Finally, and this is true in both eastern and western Christian traditions, the fasting of Lent is not about sadness. And here lies the key to understanding why we should care about this. In the Easter tradition Lent is longer, and the fasting becomes progressively more severe, but it is to be the fasting of quiet confidence. Clearly we are aware of our sinfulness, and we know that Lent can help us to change our lives, but our fasting is joyful because all is not lost. God has bothered to call us to repentance, and so our penance is the penance of the saved. Christ is still victorious in Lent, we are still saved. So just how sad can we be? Not very. Even in the Roman Catholic liturgy, the first reading of Ash Wednesday from the Prophet Joel gives us hope – “Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.” God still cares for us, even during Lent.

In the West, and especially since the restoration of rites for adult baptism at the Easter Vigil, and the inclusion of the renewal of baptismal promises at the same celebration, there is a further reason why Lent is not primarily about sadness. Yes we have sorrow for our sins, but we know how the story ends. Preface I for Lent tells us, “your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts with the joy of minds made pure,” which means that even in Lent we are joyful because we are renewed in God’s forgiveness as we prepare to commemorate the Resurrection.

Why we don’t say Alleluia during Lent

So what on earth is going on? Why do we omit the Alleluia during Lent? While the practice reaches back in popular piety to probably the sixth century, we can thank Pope Alexander II (1061 – 1073) for the custom of dismissing the Alleluia for the period of Lent as a matter of law. This led to some very creative celebrations of putting the Alleluia away, including ceremonies of burial. Fernand Cabrol cites an antiphon for the First Sunday of Lent in the Ambrosian liturgy, which was celebrated in and around Milan. This antiphon might help us to understand why we are putting the Alleluia away:

Alleluia, enclose and seal up this word, alleluia;

let it remain in the secret of your heart, alleluia,

until the appointed time: you shall say it with great joy when that day comes,

alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

It seems to me that this would be a great prayer to keep handy to use in the choir room with your choir and musicians on the last Sunday before Lent begins. The point is this – the Alleluia doesn’t die, rather it is saved up in our hearts so that it can explode with the greatest possible joy on Easter. I recall one Easter in Rome, when the Alleluia was being sung at Saint Mary Major – I think there were two choirs each in 4 parts singing the Easter alleluia. It was a powerful moment. So too is the moment in the Ceremonial of Bishops, and I have seen the Pope use this form, when the Deacon comes to the Bishop before the Easter Gospel Acclamation, where he tells the bishop, “Most Reverend Father, I bring you a message of great joy, the message of Alleluia.” And so the acclamation, saved up all through Lent is now ready to break forth.

In conclusion

Since we do save up our alleluias, we need to put something in its place, we need some way to acclaim the Gospel, the words of Jesus. The current lectionary refers to this as the Verse before the Gospel, but in the Missal that came with the reforms of the Council of Trent, it was called the tractus, in English, the tract. It is a text, normally taken from the Psalms, but it was not used daily, with no texts surviving from the Tridentine Missal for a tract on the Tuesdays, Thursdays and most Saturdays in Lent. Joseph Jungmann, citing the work of Peter Wagner (1865-1931), believed that the tracts were simply gradual Psalms that lacked refrains.

Today, one can find the texts for the Verses before the Gospel in the weekday lectionary, complete with 8 refrains for use during Lent, and 17 verses for weekday celebrations. The pastoral musician should look to accomplishing the same goals that were set for the Gospel acclamation.

In all of this, we need to keep both hope and penance alive in our celebrations, recalling that no matter what time of year it is, Christ is alive and calls us to himself through his saving word. And that is always a reason to say, Alleluia!

 

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.

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