Singing the Alleluia at the Ambo

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Singing the Alleluia at the Ambo

By Father Edward McNamara, LC

ROME, 08 January 2013 ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. Father McNamara recently was appointed dean of theology at Regina Apostolorum.

Q: Could you please explain why the cantor should not sing the Alleluia before the Gospel at the ambo? — L.C., Fortaleza, Brazil

A: The topic of the ambo and the Alleluia, which is an acclamation of praise to God coming from the Hebrew, is dealt with in several places. Most notably in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and in the introduction to the lectionary:

The GIRM states:

"309. The dignity of the word of God requires that the church have a place that is suitable for the proclamation of the word and toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns during the Liturgy of the Word ….

"From the ambo only the readings, the responsorial Psalm, and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) are to be proclaimed; it may be used also for giving the homily and for announcing the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. The dignity of the ambo requires that only a minister of the word should go up to it ….

"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.

"64. The Sequence, which is optional except on Easter Sunday and on Pentecost Day, is sung before the Alleluia."

From the introduction to the lectionary:

"56. The psalmist, or cantor of the psalm, is responsible for singing, responsorially or directly, the chants between the readings — the psalm or other biblical canticle, the gradual and Alleluia, or other chant. The psalmist may, as occasion requires, intone the Alleluia and verse."

From these documents we can take the following elements in order to answer our question.

There is no rule whatsoever that says that the Alleluia may not be sung from the ambo. It is true that it is not included among the situations mentioned in GIRM 309, but this could well be because the Alleluia can be sung from another place while the other readings must be proclaimed from the ambo.

The introduction to the lectionary implies this possibility by foreseeing that the psalmist may also intone the Alleluia and verse. In Masses with only one reading it would be absurd that the psalmist leave the ambo in order to intone the Alleluia.

It must also be remembered that the Alleluia text is included in the lectionary itself, and the liturgical books do not presume that everybody has a hand missal or a copy of the text at hand. Again, liturgical logic would be that the Alleluia may be sung from the ambo.

Therefore we can say that the liturgy, rather than prohibiting a use of the ambo, foresees several possible places and modes for singing the Alleluia, as seen above in No. 62. The psalmist or another cantor can intone the Alleluia and sing the verse from the ambo or some other suitable place.

Finally, although the Alleluia is rightly seen as pertaining to the whole assembly, I would be of the opinion that, on special occasions, it is still possible to use some of the Gregorian chant Alleluias for major feasts even though most of these require a trained choir for proper execution.

* * *

Follow-up: Singing the Alleluia at the Ambo [2-5-2013]

Pursuant to our Jan. 8 comments on the Alleluia, a reader from Down Under asked the following regarding the responsorial psalm:

"A situation that I know of sometimes arises where the reader will invite the congregation to pick up the Mass sheet, and read the entire psalm through together, beginning and ending with the antiphon. Inadvertently the celebrant (unless knowing the verses by heart) is left out of reciting anything — unless having the text at hand. I checked the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which mentions that, where the psalm cannot be sung, 'it should be recited in a way that is particularly suited to fostering meditation on the word of God' (GIRM, No. 61). Given this direction, would the aforementioned method of recitation be allowable, since, after all, it is called 'The Responsorial Psalm'?"

This theme is dealt with more fully in the Introduction to the Lectionary, to wit:


"19. The responsorial psalm, also called the gradual, has great liturgical and pastoral significance because it is an 'integral part of the liturgy of the word.' [36] Accordingly, the faithful must be continually instructed on the way to perceive the word of God speaking in the psalms and to turn these psalms into the prayer of the Church. This, of course, 'will be achieved more readily if a deeper understanding of the psalms, according to the meaning with which they are sung in the sacred Liturgy, is more diligently promoted among the clergy and communicated to all the faithful by means of appropriate catechesis.'

"Brief remarks about the choice of the psalm and response as well as their correspondence to the readings may be helpful.

"20. As a rule the responsorial psalm should be sung. There are two established ways of singing the psalm after the first reading: responsorially and directly. In responsorial singing, which, as far as possible, is to be given preference, the psalmist, or cantor of the psalm, sings the psalm verse and the whole congregation joins in by singing the response. In direct singing of the psalm there is no intervening response by the community; either the psalmist, or cantor of the psalm, sings the psalm alone as the community listens or else all sing it together.

"21. The singing of the psalm, or even of the response alone, is a great help toward understanding and meditating on the psalm's spiritual meaning.

"To foster the congregation's singing, every means available in each individual culture is to be employed. In particular, use is to be made of all the relevant options provided in the Order of Readings for Mass regarding responses corresponding to the different liturgical seasons.

"22. When not sung, the psalm after the reading is to be recited in a manner conducive to meditation on the word of God.

"The responsorial psalm is sung or recited by the psalmist or cantor at the ambo."

As can be seen above in No. 20, the possibility of a non-responsorial proclamation of the psalm is tied to its being sung.

If not sung, then a meditative recitation is required (No 22 and GIRM, No. 61). I think that meditative listening does not combine well with a common recitation of the whole psalm.

For this reason, while not specifically forbidden, this practice does not correspond to the Church's desire as to how the responsorial psalm should be proclaimed in the liturgy.

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