When you can’t sing Alleluia
With Lent come the Lent Gospel Acclamations, the replacement for the usual Gospel Acclamation. For the rest of the year the Gospel Acclamation has only one word (Alleluia, but I admit that it is repeated) and lots of tunes; the Lent Gospel Acclamation has several different forms of words, each of which has only one tune (in my settings anyway, although the verses are obviously all different, because they are different words; – but see below).
Each country-group has its own set of possible Lent Gospel Acclamations, so we have lots of them to deal with, and this is why it can sound confusing. But most of you only need to worry about one country’s-worth of them. I wrote about them exhaustively and extensively last year, and I still agree with everything I said then, but there was a bit of unfinished business.
Two new kids on the block
Last year I discovered that there were two more that I hadn’t set, only too late to set them; but luckily this year, I noticed in time. So here are two new Acclamations for the US and Canada this year. As I explained in my previous blog on Lent Gospel Acclamations, they are tricksy things,
so I wasn’t surprised to find I’d nearly missed them again. The musical undergrowth is lush at this time of year, and they find it easy to lurk undetected. In my defence, I should add that these two new ones were over a page turn, are not actually used in any of the week-by-week Mass settings, are only for the US and Canada, and are additions to a stable of six variants already. I’m not sure whether any congregation actually sings all the different LGAs. However, just in case there is anyone out there who would like to, I wanted to give you the full set. So I have set the last two. And there are versions in the keys of both F and G, just in case.
When they might be useful
The words are: Marvel(l)ous and great are your works, O Lord! (LGA 7) and Salvation, glory, and power to the Lord Jesus Christ! (LGA 8). They are very much in the same vein as the other Lent Gospel Acclamations, and as I said, they don’t get offered as standard top-and-tail in any of the Lent Sundays. But the Lent Acclamations are modular (like the Alleluias, mostly), so you can slot them in or out depending on whether they fit the sense better, or resonate with one of the readings, or your congregation just likes them (if only we regularly got that sort of feedback…..). Bear in mind that LGA 8 is the only Acclamation that starts on an unstressed syllable, so this will affect coming in in the first place as well as picking it up again after the Gospel verse. The congregation might appreciate a wave from you even more than usual. Think of it like a Response that starts with ‘The’.
For special occasions
I’ve used them with a couple of standard Sundays (3rd and 4th Sundays for example) just to show how they work, but the words feel a bit more triumphant than some of the other Acclamations, so I thought they might come in useful for the feasts which (can) occur in Lent, like St Joseph on March 19th and the Annunciation (those are sound-links to the CAN versions), which gets moved if it falls in Holy Week, but not if it’s earlier in Lent. So you will also find them there. I think it’s quite a good idea to have something different for the feasts, so long as you have enough people to sing it back to you on what will be a weekday Mass. And they are really easy to pick up and sing, so even if you don’t use them very often, they can come in as an occasional variant, to keep everyone interested. Acclamations shouldn’t be entirely routine, that’s why they have an exclamation mark after them.
Lent Gospel Acclamations and following a thread
It is interesting to compare what you might call the narrative arc of the Lent Gospel Acclamations for any given year in the three cycles. For the first two weeks of Lent, they are the same across Years A, B and C. The first one is Jesus’ answer to the devil in the desert, when he is offered bread while he is fasting : No one lives on bread alone but on the word of God. This is a shoo-in for the First Sunday of Lent, helping us to focus our minds on the season. The Second Sunday of Lent has as its Gospel the event of the Transfiguration in the various accounts (Year A Matthew, Year B Mark, Year C Luke, John does not retell the story), and the Gospel verse is taken from that: From the shining cloud the Father’s voice is heard : This is my son, listen to him.
Many threads in a pattern
From the third week of Lent it gets more complicated. This is partly because it is possible to use the Year A readings regardless of the canonical year, as the Scrutinies for those preparing for Baptism at the Vigil are celebrated in the next three Sundays. Year A has the encounter of Jesus with the woman at the well, with all the discussion about living water, so it is easy to see why this might be regarded as especially relevant, and the Gospel Acclamation here is the woman’s acceptance : Lord, you are truly the Saviour of the world. From this Third Sunday, however, the LGAs have different narrative arcs, so I want to look at them separately year by year.
Week by week, year by year
In Year A, the week after the living water, we have ‘I am the light of the world’ and then ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ in Week 5, so the tone is always positive, in contrast to some of the other readings. In Year B, there is more emphasis on sacrifice, with both the third and fourth week using John 3.16 (God so loved the world) as the Acclamation with an optional variant in the UK Lectionary of ‘I am the resurrection’. It’s quite unusual to repeat a Gospel Acclamation from week to week, though it does happen occasionally; and it means the bishops really want us to think about this one. I’ve done a couple of versions so that (the next time we are singing Year B ) you can vary it or keep it identical if you wish so as not to be a distraction.
This year (Year C)
Year C, our current year, has an elegant trajectory, which is why I started thinking about this in the first place. All the Gospels are from Luke, except for Fifth Sunday, and his account is known as ‘the Gospel of Mercy’. What is the tone of the Acclamation verses for Lent in Year C, Luke’s year? After the first two Sundays, which are the same across all three years, we have ‘Repent, says the Lord, the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ and the parable of the fig tree for Third Sunday. The following week, we have the story of the prodigal son, and the Acclamation verse is taken from the Gospel : ‘I will arise and go to my father’. In the fifth week we have John’s story of the woman taken in adultery (only found in John’s Gospel), and the Acclamation is a beautiful, incredibly appropriate verse from Joel :’Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, for I am gracious and merciful’ (there’s a UK possible alternative ‘Seek good and not evil’, but I would choose the Joel verse myself). Each week we have a different angle on repentance leading to loving forgiveness and reconciliation.
Every word counts
So even in this tiny element of the Mass, the words of the Lent Gospel Acclamation develop the themes and messages of the readings week by week. The Acclamations introduce the Gospel and sometimes literally come out of it, but they are certainly meant to make us go more deeply into it. The top-and-tail words that we all sing are to wake us up, punctuate the movement of the liturgy and make us pay attention to the Gospel itself; but it’s also worth noting exactly what the verse says. I try not to make the music move too fast nor go too high in the Gospel verses, because it’s essential that the cantor gets the words across at their first (and only) hearing . Try and make them clear. And if you’re part of the main congregation, think of the old way we used to be taught how to cross the road. The slogan then was : Stop – look – listen. Now at Mass, we could rephrase it as : Stand – sing – listen. The words are worth it.