Liturgy Lines: Singing the Pentecost Sequence

by Elizabeth Harrington. 

This article originally appeared at Liturgy Brisbane on April 27th, 2017.

With Pentecost just over five weeks away, liturgy planners and musicians will be choosing and rehearsing music for this important feast.

Pentecost is one of the two times in the year when a Sequence is obligatory, the other being Easter Sunday. Sequences developed out of the practice of the cantor extending the final ‘a’ of the gospel Alleluia on important celebrations.  Gradually, words were added to the melody and by about the year 1000, the texts had been organised into extended rhyming verse.  The words focussed on the particular feast or mystery being celebrated. These poems were always sung as hymns, never recited.

Sequences were once a common feature of the liturgy. By the time of the Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century, thousands of sequences had been composed, one of the most famous being the Dies Irae (‘Day of Wrath’) of the Requiem Mass. In the reform of the liturgy following Trent, only those for Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi and the Funeral Mass were included in the Roman Missal. A fifth for the Seven Sorrows of Mary was added later.

The Tridentine missal prescribed the sequence to be sung after the Alleluia and the Gospel acclamation verse but before the Alleluia was repeated. In other words, it was an embellishment of the Gospel acclamation. In reality, however, sequences were considered to be meditative hymns to which the assembly listened while seated, rather than as a preparation for the Gospel to be sung by all while standing.

Although the sequence began as an extension of the Alleluia, it is now often read or sung after the second reading and before the Gospel acclamation, thus thwarting its purpose of highlighting the acclamation and lengthening the Gospel procession.

The change of order after Vatican II occurred because of the way the new lectionary was printed. The sequence text appeared before the Gospel acclamation, so people started to insert it there in the liturgy. There was no guidance given by the 1975 General Instruction of the Roman Missal. To avoid any ambiguity the 2000 General Instruction added the sentence: “The sequence is sung after the Alleluia”. When sung as intended, the sequence serves as a processional hymn for an elaborate Gospel procession on two of the most important days of the Church year.

It is a challenge to liturgy planners to ensure that the sequence is a joyful expression of the feast in which all can participate. On Pentecost Sunday the whole assembly could be invited to join in one of the many sung settings of Veni, Sancte Spiritus (‘Come, Holy Spirit’) as the Gospel Book is carried through the assembly in solemn fashion accompanied by candles and incense, culminating in the joyful acclamation: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Alleluia!”

“Liturgy Lines” are short 500-word essays on liturgical topics written by Elizabeth Harrington, Liturgy Brisbane’s education officer. They have been published every week in The Catholic Leader since 1999.

Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Harrington, Archdiocese of Brisbane.

 

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31 comments

  1. I love these illustrations and suggestions for the Sequence. We’ve used the HYMN TO JOY settings of both Easter and Pentecost texts and done an “attaca” to the O’Carroll/Walker “Celtic Alleluia,” which is our Easter season Alleluia. This year I think we will use the Taize “Veni, Sancte Spiritus,” at at least one of our Masses, with the same connection to the Celtic Alleluia.

    I think the US GIRM still has the Sequence sung BEFORE the Gospel Acclamation. Seems as though Australia might have gotten the better portion here 🙂

  2. The 2002 GIRM at n.64 says the sequence is sung BEFORE the Alleluia (the translation “Gospel Acclamation” is unfortunate, because the “Acclamationes ad Evangelium” are those dialogue-type texts). Also note that the final Alleluia has been removed from the sequences which had them, and also the Amen.

  3. We’ve never done either the Easter Sequence or the Pentecost Sequence at our parish. How “obligatory” is it?

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:
        I’ve worshipped and worked at a variety of US parishes over the years. Every single one omits them. However, the description of using them as Gospel Procession is appealing.

      2. @Chuck Middendorf:
        I merely responded about if they were obligatory, not if the obligation was universally observed. It my experience, I’ve rarely encountered them being omitted in the last 25 years (except in Masses without a choir, which I would rarely attend on Easter or Pentecost…) – omission was more common in the ’70s and ’80s.

        For a vernacular setting not set to the traditional chant melody, I can highly commend Richard J. Clark’s setting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvb_-PU7dow

  4. One approach is the have the choir/schola sing a verse of the chant a cappella in Latin and the congregation to then join with the same verse in English with some organ support. Works beautifully.

  5. My recollection is that the Easter and Pentecost sequences were always sung (and before the Alleluia verse). I may be misremembering, but I think “Come Holy Ghost” would sometimes be substituted for the Pentecost sequence when I was a kid in the 90s. The parish I belonged to in high school usually had a cantor sing the sequences unaccompanied in a simple plainchant kind of way that was actually very moving.

    Just a note, the common practice at the EF – and therefore I assume the common practice before Vatican II – is for people to remain seated for the Alleluia verse and not stand until the “Dominus vobiscum” before the Gospel. Therefore, worrying about having everyone stand through the sequence after the verse is never an issue. The only time I experienced otherwise was a church doing an EF for a special occasion, and they did the Alleluia verse as it is typically done in the OF to a familiar setting (I want to say it was the Celtic version). Everyone, of course, stood up right on cue.

  6. The 1988 Introduction to the Ordo Cantus Missae (no. 8) indicates that the Sequence was to be sung AFTER the Alleluia. This was what appears in the 2000 GIRM which was issued prior to the complete Missal. When the full 3rd edition of the Missale Romanum appeared in 2002, however, there were various edits in the GIRM and “after the Alleluia” was changed to “before the Alleluia” in no. 64. The previous GIRM (no. 40) only mentioned that sequences were optional except on Easter and Pentecost.

  7. A very singable and lovely tune for the sequence hymn is the hymn tune: Webbe and/or Veni, Sancte Spiritus, Hymnal 1982, number 228 and also Worship IV, number 541. I have always found that in the Midwest many congregations know this hymn, (perhaps by osmosis) and love to sing it. A wonderful tune unfortunately left out of many current hymnals, including Ritual Song 2.

  8. When the Ordo Lectionum Missae first appeared in 1969, one of the notable things about it was the change in position of the Sequences. Formerly sung after the Alleluia they would henceforth be sung before.

    Furthermore, the final “Alleluia” was omitted from the Sequence texts, which now ended with a simple Amen, infuriating the Gregorian chant lobby.

    The rationale for all this seems to have been twofold:

    (a) It was felt that the Alleluia should immediately precede and welcome the Gospel, and during it all would stand. To have a lengthy Sequence following, during which all would continue to stand, was felt undesirable from a pastoral point of view. Now, all would have the option of sitting to listen to the Sequence and then stand for the Alleluia.

    (b) Having determined that, it was felt that having an “Alleluia” at the end of the Sequence, but with everyone sitting during the singing of that word, was both redundant and undesirable.

    Confirmation of the position of Sequence was provided in the 1981 revised Lectionarium.

    The problem arose when the first 2000 Latin GIRM placed the Sequence after the Alleluia. It was quickly realized that this was an error, because of the furore over it when the first English lash-up appeared; and a revision of the Latin GIRM published in late August 2000 corrected it. However, the damage had already been done, and the majority who never saw that Latin revision, nor any of the English drafts between 2000 and 2002, were left in confusion until the 2002 Missale Romanum appeared.

  9. Might I draw attention to the beautiful setting of the Pentecost Sequence in the Psallite Mass “At the Table of the Lord” (Liturgical Press)? It’s provided in both English and Latin. The Mass also includes a vigorous Easter Sequence.

    1. Welp- new pastor in our parish and guess what- the sequences are in! Paul I really love the version from the At the Table Mass. thanks!

  10. A little off topic, but does anybody do the full version of the Corpus Christi Sequence “Lauda Sion” in the Ordinary Form? It is not obligatory like Easter and Pentecost, and I’ve only ever done the abridged version starting at “Ecce panis angelorum,” sometimes in Latin and sometimes in English. I’m curious about congregational perception – whether they remain engaged through the long full version, or are just wondering when on earth the thing will end. It could be done engagingly with a creative organist.

  11. We are going to use the chant melody, (text in English) as an extended Gospel Acclamation Verse. This will accompany the deacon’s extended procession with the book of Gospels.

  12. My previous parish used to stop and have the choir chant the sequence for Easter and Pentecost. When I started working there I suggested to the priest we have an extended gospel procession so the sequence would be functional instead of just having everything come to a crashing halt and awkwardly sing it. He loved the idea and when we did the procession everything made sense to the assembly (and choir). They weren’t a huge chant parish (although they did some) so I found some other settings that were well received. The funny thing about this story is I’m not Roman Catholic but I was the one often asking why we had slipped in some of these practices.

  13. This is an interesting discussion regarding the relative positions of the sequence and the Alleluia. It seems that, if the sequence comes first, everyone remains seated and it’s sung as a meditative hymn. Whereas if the Alleluia comes first, everyone stands and the sequence is sung as an extended sort of acclamation. (As is the case with many other parishes, ours typically omits the sequences, so for me this is all theoretical!)

    If we use the Gloria as a sort of model or precedent for a hymn sung in the liturgy, then it would seem that standing rather than sitting would be appropriate, regardless of whether it’s sung before or after the Alleluia?

    Also, what does an extended Gospel procession “say”? I assume that, on most Sundays of the year, the Gospel reading is already “elevated” over the other readings in the Liturgy of the Word by virtue of the acclamation, the procession, the standing during its proclamation, the minister who proclaims it, and sometimes with incense. To march around the church for 5 more minutes on top of all that while everyone sings a hymn – could it seem a bit over the top?

  14. What do you all do about Saturday evening Masses on Pentecost Eve?
    For most attenders, of course, it’s the anticipated Mass of Sunday, except there is a separate set of propers/readings for the Vigil. And the sequence isn’t part of that set. But the Ordo seems unclear — it seems the sequence is not required, but not prohibited either. So one could use it, yes, no?

    The director of our office of worship suggested the alternative of using the sequence somewhere else in that liturgy, as seemed appropriate, on Saturday evening. But I wonder how else the issue has been handled. Seems a shame to deprive people of that wonderful text.

    In our parish, we are trying to cultivate a real Pentecost Vigil, not quite on Easter scale, but enough to really feel like a vigil. Anyone have experience with that?

  15. Re: Lauda Sion

    Doug,
    I haven’t sung the whole of Lauda Sion since the first Mass on Corpus Christi, over 25 years ago, of a Dominican friend who specifically wanted it. The schola, amateurs though we were, managed to get through it. Beautiful, but it is very long and rather challenging.

    I’ve seen even papal Masses (even under Benedict XVI, who cares about such things), use just the short version. I think if I were going to do it all, I would provide a translation in a worship aid. (I can’t recall seeing a singable English version of the whole thing, now that I think about it. Anyone know one?)

    In my current parish, when I’ve had any say, I’ve lobbied to at least do the short version.

    Since it is optional, could it be used in a different spot, eg as a communion piece or for a procession?

  16. I have recently had the privilege of editing Hymns for All Seasons: the Complete Hymns of James Quinn, SJ, scheduled to be published by OCP in June this year.

    Among its 230 hymns is a setting of the complete Lauda Sion Sequence, with an English text by Quinn, set to the Gregorian chant melody. Worth taking a look at when the book appears (of course, there are many other good things in there, too).

    1. @Paul Inwood:
      Paul,
      This is very interesting and I can’t wait to have in one place all the texts of this master. Does this mean that OCP will now hold the copyright to every one of his texts? Who held them before and how much did it vary?
      awr

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

        In 2015 OCP acquired the world publishing and distribution rights to everything that Quinn wrote. They administer those rights on behalf of the British Jesuits, who still own all the copyrights. In the US it was Selah from 1993 to 2015. Elsewhere Bloomsbury (who had bought out Continuum, who were the successors to Geoffrey Chapman, the original publishers).

        The new book includes texts which have never been published before.

  17. I’ll look forward to the Quinn publication.

    I find this aversion to singing any stand-alone piece that does not cover liturgical action interesting. Perhaps it also explains why the optional song of praise after communion has never caught on either. What’s wrong with taking some time to appreciate something profound on its own?

  18. Interesting conversation. At my old parish, we jumped in the Pentecost waters with both feet to implement a full Pentecost Vigil at the Saturday evening liturgy. We used all the readings and responses. We also announced our plans ahead of time to entire community so as to not catch people unaware.
    We had a large crowd show the first year and received nothing but positive feedback. Part of the success was due to preliminary catchesis offered to everyone.
    In regard to the sequence for Pentecost, I have found that the English chant text works rather well with the tune: DOWN AMPNEY. I also like having the men sing the first 9 measures and the women sing the remaining 9 measures. I use a slight alteration to the melody at measures 8 & 9 and 17 & 18.

  19. “It is a challenge to liturgy planners to ensure that the sequence is a joyful expression of the feast in which all can participate”
    Is there such a thing?
    Simple, participatory and above all, joyful.
    40+ years of searching tells me that there isn’t.

  20. Similarly, I struggled to find a version of the Pentecost Sequence that is beautiful, accessible to the general congregation, and true to the words of the original English Roman Missal.

    As such, after last year’s Pentecost Sunday, I was suddenly motivated/inspired to come up with the music to address this need. And now, 1 year later, happy to share that led by the Spirit, our church will be singing this version for the upcoming Pentecost Sunday.

    Ps. I will be most happy to share the music score freely with anyone who would like to use it for church worship.

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