Gospel Acclamation, Before and After

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Gospel Acclamation, Before and After

ROME, NOV. 20, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Is it appropriate to sing the "Gospel Acclamation" before and after the reading of the Gospel? — A.B., Scarborough, Ontario

A: The general practice regarding the Gospel acclamation is described in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:

"62. After the reading that immediately precedes the Gospel, the Alleluia or another chant indicated by the rubrics is sung, as required by the liturgical season. An acclamation of this kind constitutes a rite or act in itself, by which the assembly of the faithful welcomes and greets the Lord who is about to speak to them in the Gospel and professes their faith by means of the chant. It is sung by all while standing and is led by the choir or a cantor, being repeated if this is appropriate. The verse, however, is sung either by the choir or by the cantor.

"a. The Alleluia is sung in every season other than Lent. The verses are taken from the Lectionary or the Graduale.

"b. During Lent, in place of the Alleluia, the verse before the Gospel is sung, as indicated in the Lectionary. It is also permissible to sing another psalm or tract, as found in the Graduale.

"63. When there is only one reading before the Gospel,

"a. During a season when the Alleluia is to be said, either the Alleluia Psalm or the responsorial Psalm followed by the Alleluia with its verse may be used;

"b. During the season when the Alleluia is not to be said, either the psalm and the verse before the Gospel or the psalm alone may be used;

"c. The Alleluia or verse before the Gospel may be omitted if they are not sung."

There is no mention of the repetition of the acclamation after the Gospel for ordinary Masses in which the Gospel is immediately followed by the homily, prayer of the faithful or procession of the gifts.

When a bishop celebrates, however, the Book of the Gospels is sometimes brought to him after being read, as indicated in GIRM, No, 175: "When the deacon is assisting the Bishop, he carries the book to him to be kissed, or else kisses it himself, saying quietly, 'Per evangelica dicta' (May the words of the gospel). In more solemn celebrations, as the occasion suggests, a Bishop may impart a blessing to the people with the Book of the Gospels."

The brief procession carrying the Book of the Gospels from the ambo to the bishop's cathedra would be the only likely situation in which the Gospel acclamation would be repeated.

There is no official document or rubric in the universal books that specifically suggests this repetition, and certainly nothing that would require it. But there is some precedence from papal Masses on special occasions.

For example, when Pope John Paul II celebrated the vigil Mass of Pentecost that concluded Rome's diocesan Synod in 1993, the alleluia was repeated while the Book of the Gospels was brought to him. The alleluia was also repeated after the Gospel on the occasion of Benedict XVI's solemn inaugural Mass. It is also repeated on a more regular basis for some Masses such as Corpus Christi.

Sometimes, rather than repeating the alleluia, another antiphon is sung after the Gospel. When John Paul II celebrated 25 years as Pope in 2003 the choir sang a polyphonic Latin antiphon. An acclamation was sung in Greek when Benedict XVI celebrated the Mass concluding the 2005 Synod of Bishops; the Eucharistic celebration also coincided with the canonization of four saints.

Therefore we can conclude that while repeating the Gospel acclamation or singing some other acclamation after the Gospel should not be considered a regular practice, it may be done on more solemn occasions, such as at a Mass celebrated by a bishop to accompany the procession with the Book of the Gospels.

* * *

Follow-up: Gospel Acclamation, Before and After [12-4-2007]

After our remarks on repeating the alleluia (Nov. 20), an Austin, Minnesota, reader inquired: "I have experienced the Alleluia being read by the lector and then spoken by the assembly regularly at weekday Masses where there is no choir or cantor, but where other communal singing does occur. It was my understanding that if the Alleluia is not sung it should be omitted. [See] 'Music in Catholic Worship' by the bishops' committee on the liturgy, 1982, No. 55."

The document mentioned by our reader is in the process of being updated and replaced by a far more authoritative one voted upon by the entire conference and not issued by just the liturgy committee. All the same, it presents an interesting case of liturgical interpretation.

In the footnote to No. 55 the committee document states: "The first edition of this document had the word 'may' instead of 'should.' This change has been made in the second edition in light of the norm found in LMI 23."

No. 23 of the LMI, or the Introduction to the Lectionary, says: "The Alleluia or, as the liturgical season requires, the verse before the Gospel is also a 'rite or act standing by itself.' It serves as the greeting of welcome of the assembled faithful to the Lord who is about to speak to them and as an expression of their faith through song. The Alleluia or the verse before the Gospel must be sung, and during it all stand. It is not to be sung only by the cantor who intones it or by the choir, but by the whole of the people together."

Strangely, though, an exact equivalent to the expression "The Alleluia ... must be sung" is not found in other translations of the same document and it seems to force the meaning of the official text a little.

The footnotes in the Introduction to the Lectionary refer to the earlier edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which is the most authoritative document in this regard. Both the earlier edition and the present edition of the GIRM say basically the same thing; thus No. 63c says: "The Alleluia or verse before the Gospel may be omitted if they are not sung."

I think therefore that the committee document is incorrect in saying that the Alleluia "must" be sung or else omitted. I hold that the practice of merely reciting the acclamation is legitimate.

This does not, however, make it best liturgical practice. The very fact that it may be omitted if not sung is a strong enough indicator that the Church's intention is that whenever possible the Alleluia or other seasonal acclamation should always be sung.

This singing can be done even if the verse between the Alleluias is recited because the reader lacks the requisite musical ability to chant it.

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