Gospel Acclamation for Lent

What do you do when you have a mixed congregation mostly of Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, with varying traditions for greeting the gospel, gathered during Lent for a diaconal ordination?

Did I mention that it was my own diaconal ordination? Did I also mention that I abhor the singing of a hymn before the gospel?

I wanted a gospel acclamation, of which I’ve seen very few for Lent from Episcopal sources (English Anglicans do a bit better with this); I wanted something unique, yet something everybody could sing after one hearing, regardless of denominational background. And it had to be sufficiently long to support a gospel procession without spinning into endless repetitions. And it had to be dignified: not unduly ponderous, nor of the over-joyful caliber that one sometimes sees in Lenten gospel acclamations. Oh, and I wanted it in four-part harmony: the choir was composed of music students and trained volunteers — I wanted to both honor and capitalize on their skills. A tall order, to be sure.

Episcopalians are trained from birth to sing anything, and to sing it in parts, so I wasn’t worried about throwing something new at them. The Roman Catholics who were on the guest list were mostly from the cantor-congregation “school,” and I had to respect that. So something familiar commended itself, over against my desire for something unique. I finally struck upon the idea of using a familiar public-domain melody and employing new words. Taking the four-part “Christus Vincit” (which I’m given to understand is used as the theme-tune for Vatican Radio), I substituted the English phrase “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ” for the first two phrases of the original text; then, drawing on Eastern Christian liturgical texts, I added “Holy Wisdom, Holy Word” to fill out the rest of the tune. Text and music are here, and I welcome our readers to make use of it if they see fit (provided they give a nod in my direction!)

To fill out the length of the procession, in place of a verse, I did give in to the Anglican “gospel hymn” tradition: after the intonation and repeat of the acclamation, the choir launched into a verse of “Blessed Jesus, at thy Word” to the tune LIEBSTER JESU. After the verse, the acclamation was repeated. It proved to be a great fit of both text and tune with the acclamation. That being said, for those who would want a more simple verse, a Mode VI psalm tone works exceedingly well with the Christus Vincit acclamation.

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4 comments

  1. For a similar situation, especially in Lent, may I recommend “Not on Bread Alone Are We Nourished, But on Every Word from God” from the Psallite collection of the Collegeville Composers Group, an antiphon set to the first and last lines of the tune “Picardy”? See http://litpress.org/excerpts/P169CP.pdf

    This is a tune Roman Catholics know well, and all can enjoy singing it in canon or even in harmony!

    1. I have been nothing but impressed with the Psallite project: an easily learned, congregationally-oriented arrangement of the propers, in varying styles that invite a variety of levels of performance.

      The recordings are fantastic, too. . . excellent demonstrations of key selections that are also fine accompaniment to times of personal prayer, meditation or spiritual relaxation.

  2. Thanks very much to Cody Untersehr — I’m always on the look-out for good ideas and this seems very do-able.

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