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.