Lent Gospel Acclamations : an update

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).

How many different Acclamations?

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,

Hunting the Bonnacon, a mythical beast
Volmar and I struggling to get to grips with the Lent Gospel Acclamation

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.

tapestry alphabet hanging
you always need the full set…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’.

People having a great time singing Lent Gospel Acclamations
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.

Transfiguration with helpful sign language captions
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.

a different sort of narrative ark, more like a space ship
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.

another gorgeous ark, signifying distraction
This year (Year C)

Year C, our current year [2019], 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.

Lovely dynamic prodigal son’s return
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.

Snail shell with person emerging
a happy cantor who’s being listened to

© Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Keefe and Music for Mass, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lent Gospel Acclamations, a User’s Guide

Putting the Alleluia on hold (for a little while)…..

From this Wednesday, 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,  and during Lent all the Alleluias, like the Gloria, are removed from the liturgy.

A beautiful place to keep the Alleluias during Lent
…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.

Hunting the Bonnacore (mythical beast)
Volmar and I attempting to subdue the Lent Gospel Acclamation

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.

Sheep tightly jammed into sheepfold
How many different Acclamations?
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.

Nun reading at lectern
Hooray for women cantors even if they can’t read the Gospel
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.  Volmar is deeply attached to Roman numerals (it’s all those occurrences of the letter ‘V’), so he uses it in his lists, but I get to put the titles on the music pages. 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 (singenofbingen@gmail.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 successful, 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.

Teacher reading to class maybe studying Lent Gospel Acclamations?
Paying attention and enjoying it?

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  [and here they are], 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.

Mini-dragons attacking people like Lent Gospel Acclamations
Lent Gospel Acclamations refusing to lie down

© Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Keefe and Music for Mass, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.