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The Verse Before the Gospel

February 11, 2020. Its Singing is for Cantors or Choirs

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Before the Gospel is proclaimed, and after the Alleluia (when there is one), we hear a short verse that is sung or read. Who is supposed to do that? Priest? Deacon? Cantor? Lector? I have experienced all of the above. – J.L., Oswego, New York

A: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, speaking about other formulas used during the celebration, says the following:

“37. Finally, among other formulas: a) Some constitute an independent rite or act, such as the Gloria in Excelsis (Glory to God in the highest), the Responsorial Psalm, the Alleluia and Verse before the Gospel, the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy), the Memorial Acclamation, and the chant after Communion ….

“The Acclamation before the Gospel

“62. After the reading that immediately precedes the Gospel, the Alleluia or another chant laid down by the rubrics is sung, as the liturgical time requires. An acclamation of this kind constitutes a rite or act in itself, by which the gathering of the faithful welcomes and greets the Lord who is about to speak to them in the Gospel and profess their faith by means of the chant. It is sung by everybody, standing, and is led by the choir or a cantor, being repeated as the case requires. The verse, on the other hand, is sung either by the choir or by a cantor.

“a) The Alleluia is sung in every time of year other than Lent. The verses are taken from the Lectionary or the Graduale.

“b) During Lent, instead of the Alleluia, the Verse before the Gospel as given in the Lectionary is sung. It is also possible to sing another Psalm or Tract, as found in the Graduale.

“63. When there is only one reading before the Gospel:

“a) during a time of year when the Alleluia is prescribed, either an Alleluia Psalm or the Responsorial Psalm followed by the Alleluia with its verse may be used;

“b) during a time of year when the Alleluia is not foreseen, either the Psalm and the Verse before the Gospel or the Psalm alone may be used;

“c) the Alleluia or the Verse before the Gospel, if not sung, may be omitted.

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

The above indications made some slight adaptations to the earlier Introduction to the Lectionary. In the year 2000 the introduction to the Book of the Gospels also touched upon this theme:

“PREPARATION FOR THE GOSPEL PROCESSION

“10. After a brief silent reflection on the last reading from the Lectionary, or as the occasion dictates, after the responsorial Psalm, the reader removes the Lectionary. The candle bearers go to the altar where the Book of the Gospels has been placed.

“11. The faithful stand to welcome and acclaim the Word made flesh and to honor the Book of the Gospels, which is a sign of his presence. All sing the Gospel Acclamation which ends when the deacon reaches the ambo.

“12. The deacon, accompanied by the thurifer, goes to the priest celebrant. As the congregation begins to sing the Gospel Acclamation, the deacon assists the priest who puts incense into the thurible.”

The guidelines of the U.S. bishops’ conference “Sing to the Lord” also offers pointers:

“The Gospel Acclamation

“161. In the Gospel Acclamation, the assembled faithful welcome ‘the Lord who is about to speak to them.’ The cantor may intone the Acclamation, which is repeated by the whole assembly. After the cantor or choir sings the verse, the entire assembly again sings the Acclamation. If there is a Gospel procession, the Acclamation may be repeated as often as necessary to accompany the Gospel procession. The verses are as a rule taken from the Lectionary for Mass.

“162. The Gregorian settings of the Gospel Acclamation are most appropriate for use in those communities which are able to sing the response communally.

“163. During most of the church year, the Alleluia with the proper verse serves as the Gospel Acclamation. During the season of Lent, alternate acclamations with their proper verse are used, as found in the Lectionary for Mass (or, when there is only one reading before the Gospel, the Psalm alone may be used). The Gospel Acclamation may be omitted when it is not sung.

“164. When there is only one reading before the Gospel, the Gospel Acclamation may be omitted; if it is a season in which the Alleluia is said, the Alleluia may be used as the response of the Psalm, or the Psalm with its proper response may be used followed by the Alleluia with its verse. The Gospel Acclamation may be omitted when it is not sung.”

From the above documents, we can see that singing the verse is either the choir or the cantor. While it is not the function of the deacon to sing the verse, should he do so, he is actually functioning as a cantor at this moment.

If one of the Gregorian settings is used, the above document also foresee the possibility of a community singing the chant. This is because the Gregorian Alleluias are often very complex and would usually require some experience in choral singing of chant. Thus they would be sung above all in monastic and seminary settings.

According to a letter of St. Gregory the Great, written in 598, the custom of singing the Alleluia was introduced into Rome at the time of St. Damasus (pontificate 366-384). Although experts disagree as to the details, as they are wont to do, it would appear that most of these complex Alleluias were composed sometime during the eighth through tenth centuries.