Putting the Alleluia on hold (for a little while)…..
From this Wednesday, February 14th, you won’t hear the word Alleluia in church for the next six weeks or so. That is because it is the beginning of Lent (although there may also be a few people celebrating February 14th for other reasons), and during Lent all the Alleluias, like the Gloria, are removed from the liturgy.
…and giving the job to the Lent Gospel Acclamation
Instead we have the Lent Gospel Acclamation, which has the exact same role. It heralds the Gospel. We sing (or say, but singing’s better) it before the (relevant) Gospel verse, and repeat it afterwards; then, completely focussed and wideawake (because of the injection of new oxygen caused by singing), we listen to the Gospel. In some parishes, they repeat the Acclamation again after the Gospel, which means the congregation is singing it at least three times.
Lots of options
There are different forms of words for the Lent Gospel Acclamation, and they also differ in each country-group, so we end up with lots of them. I’m not sure why there is so much variation, as they all replace the simple word ‘Alleluia’, and no-one seems to feel a need to vary that from week to week, but I just work with what I’m given.
We’ve now been doing this for a few years, and I have to admit that my heart and that of Volmar the Vebmaster both sink when we realise it’s Lent Gospel Acclamation time again. This is because they are tricksy little things and it’s hard to get a good grip on them. Somehow they always manage to get in behind you and bite you on the bottom, however hard you try to keep them in order. This year, for example, I was reasonably sanguine about them after putting a lot of work and organisation in over the last two years. Ash Wednesday looked all right…..and then my nice neat system fell at the first hurdle as I had to write a third one for Canada for First Sunday of Lent Year B, because the Missal used a different one.
Lots and lots of options
The problem arises because each country-group Missal can choose any of the optional Lent Gospel Acclamations to go with any set Gospel verse, which offers a dizzying number of possibilities. Most parishes don’t actually want to have a new Acclamation every week as well as the new Gospel verse. So what I have done is take a default setting for every week, choosing the one that is used most often in the Lectionary, so that you can actually sing the same Acclamation every week if you want to; and where the Acclamation in the Missal is one of the alternatives, I’ve set that as well (so you can stick with the words exactly as in the Missal if you prefer). For all the country-groups except the Canadians, the default setting is the first standard Lent Gospel Acclamation, but for Canada it is the fifth on the list.
The problems of labelling
I started out by giving them letters instead of numbers, but that turned out too confusing. We have numbered them according to the order in the Missal, but it’s still not foolproof as the Sundays of Lent are themselves numbered, and the Years are designated by different letters, so both obvious markers could cause confusion. I thought about Roman numerals, lower-case letters and different alphabets, but they all have drawbacks. Various useful typographical marks aren’t accepted as elements in filenames by the computer. So the form we settled on is that the first number in any name is the marker for the top-and-tail, and later numbers refer to the Sunday of Lent. Thus Lent Gospel Acclamation 1 (US) 1 Lent A, for example.
America, Canada and Australia/New Zealand all use the same set of possible Lent Gospel Acclamations, but OZ and CAN do not use Nos. 3 and 6 in their Missals. I thought about renumbering in consequence, but decided against it. The UK and Ireland have their own set.
In addition, the Saints’ days which fall in Lent have to use Lent Gospel Acclamations instead of Alleluias. Since March is a busy month (St David, St Patrick and St Joseph among others), this is a whole further group.
Further possible complications
Sometimes I have to transpose the Acclamation down a tone, because the Gospel verse would otherwise feel uncomfortable for the Cantor; I thought about doing a separate list of these as well, but decided it probably wasn’t worth it. Most Acclamations are in G or F, and they are all 4/4; this is to keep things as modular as possible, so if your congregation particularly likes one Acclamation, it’s easy to reuse it, even if it isn’t the one set in the Missal. And I can easily transpose anything for you if you e-mail me (email@example.com).
How does it work in practice?
When we post the music for the appropriate Sunday, this means that every week there is a setting of the Lent Gospel Acclamation with that week’s Gospel verse, and often two, because there is the default setting (usually Lent Gospel Acclamation 1) as well as whatever is written in the Missal. It’s not as complicated on the ground as it sounds when you try to explain it. On some Lent Sundays, we have the same Gospel verse as a different Year, but a different top-and-tail, so it’s possible to end up with three options, but usually it’s only two; and of course, you only need one for any given Mass. We are trying to keep this simple (I realise it may not sound like that!), and it’s easier in practice than it sounds.
Making them work
Like Alleluias, these are musical miniatures, but they do have a function, and they have to work. To be succesful, they must be clear, attract attention, encourage participation, stop people being distracted and give the words their full weight. This is why everyone sings the top-and-tail, even if only the cantor sings the verse. That’s quite a lot of work for four bars of music.
The Acclamations need to be a call, but not jubilant like the Alleluia, more of a formal introduction. The format for both Alleluias and Lent Gospel Acclamations reminds me of the old advice about speaking to a group : you need to tell people what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. It is a deliberate framing device. Some of the words are trickier than others; I have tried to be ceremonial without being musically pompous. They don’t need to be slow, just comfortable talking speed for the verse. Over the course of Lent, the Gospel verses start spare and become slightly more elaborate; I have tried to follow the same development.
Always trying to catch up
As evidence of the tricksiness of the Lent Gospel Acclamation, I have to mention that only this year did I discover that there are even two more available for the US and CAN Lectionaries. These two don’t get set in the Missal for the Lent Sundays, so I don’t actually need them for this year; but in the interests of completeness, and giving you the full set of options, I will try to set them before next Lent season……and then I will find that there is still more to do, before I have got all the Lent Gospel Acclamations sorted out and musicked. I wish you a happy, holy and musical Lent.
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