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Singing the Gospel Acclamation
I am often asked about the singing of the Gospel Acclamation at Mass. If it is not sung, is it recited or omitted? Should the verse for the Gospel acclamation be read or sung between sung Alleluias?
The Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass says this about the acclamation before the reading of the Gospel at Mass:
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 assembled faithful’s greeting of welcome 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 congregation together. (LMI #23)
This is unequivocal – the gospel acclamation is sung by everyone present. There is no suggestion that it might be recited or omitted.
According to the2000 General Instruction of the Roman Missal:
The Alleluia is sung in every season other than Lent. During Lent, in place of the Alleluia, the verse before the Gospel is sung, as indicated in the Lectionary. All stand and sing the Alleluia, led by the choir or a cantor. The verse is then sung by the choir or by the cantor. (GIRM #62)
Unlike earlier versions of the General Instruction, it does notoffer the option ofomitting the Alleluia if it is not sung. It simply assumes that it is sung.
Alleluia is a Hebrew word meaning ‘Praise God’. In the Hebrew Scriptures it appears at the beginning and end of those psalms that were proclaimed as part of the temple worship. Its use as an acclamation in the Roman liturgy was initially on Easter Day only but was later extended to the entire Easter season and eventually to the whole liturgical year with the exception of Lent. It was always used to accompany a procession.
This last point is helpful when considering how the gospel acclamation should be handled in liturgy today. It is processional music which accompanies the movement of the gospel book and proclaimer to the ambo. The length of the sung acclamation needs to be matched with the time taken for the procession and any other associated gestures.
In a normal parish setting, the procession might just be a short walk, so the Alleluia alone without the verse may be long enough. In more formal settings, where gestures such as blessing the reader and incensing the book are included, the verse is used. If the music is still not long enough to accompany the action, then the acclamation is lengthened and verses added as required.
Although the documents describe the gospel acclamation as a rite or act in itself, it is not an end in itself: its aim is to focus the attention of the assembly on the gospel proclamation that follows.
At the end of the reading, we respond to ‘The Gospel of the Lord’ with ‘Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ’. This can often be a rather mumbled anticlimax after the joyful gospel acclamation and proclamation. Repeating the sung Alleluia (Praise God!) might be a more fitting way to conclude this part of the liturgy.