Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Sequence for Pentecost: Liturgical Hijinx

Here’s everything you ever wanted to know - and more! - about when to sing the Sequence for Pentecost! This information comes to you from one who is much more knowledgeable than I am regarding such matters.

The question arises: is the Sequence for Pentecost sung before or after the Alleluia? This becomes an issue only for the Novus Ordo; the answer is quite clear in the Extraordinary Form.

Sigh. Welcome to the world of ecclesiastical politics.

The present state of affairs leaves us in the conundrum of both "A" and "B" (which are mutually exclusive) being correct (for now, at least), depending on where the Mass is being offered. Nevertheless it is important to know which of the two "correct" positions is the more appropriate.

The current (2011) English translation of the General Instruction to the Roman Missal (GIRM), "Including Adaptations for Dioceses of the United States of America" states:

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

The GIRM is liturgical law for the Roman Rite throughout the world. But note that this quotation (no. 64) is from the approved English translation of the GIRM that includes "Adaptations for Dioceses of the United States of America". When we compare this same article to the Latin original of the GIRM that is used throughout the rest of the world, we find exactly the opposite:

64. Sequentia, quae praeter quam diebus Paschae et Pentecostes, est ad libitum, cantatur post Allelúia.
(64. The Sequence, which is optional except on the days of Pascha and Pentecost, is sung after the Alleluia.)

Either the Vatican's designated approvers of official vernacular translations didn't catch the error in the English edition, or the change was approved as an authorized adaptation for Dioceses of the USA. I'm inclined to think that it was a case of the latter: the prelates appointed to oversee linguistics didn't have a background in sacred liturgy, let alone in sacred music. They failed to understand and appreciate what a Sequentia is, what it is meant to do, and why it is called "Sequentia": it follows sequentially after the Alleluia, as a florid jubilation on that same Alleluia.

Well-meaning priests and bishops had long noted (well, "long", anyway, after Pope Paul VI's new Mass came out in the 1970’s) that, with the new – and misunderstood – emphasis on EVERYONE having to sing the "Gospel Acclamation" (i.e., "Alleluia"), the people were all standing to sing the Alleluia, and then everyone had to "just" stand there while someone (often just a cantor, since the choir wouldn't learn to sing the Sequence) sang this long solo.

Or, worse yet (following down that rabbit trail of "active participation"), this is all viewed as the apparent anticlimax of the entire congregation having to stand (oh, my Gawd!) and recite (because we HAVE to "participate"!! – and because the chant is TOO HARD for the congregation to learn – and besides, chant is SO pre-Vatican Two!). Meanwhile the deacon/priest stands at the ambo "wasting his time", waiting for this unnecessary intrusion into HIS ministry of proclaiming the Gospel.

With this kind of mindset, coupled with sheer ignorance, the historical placement of the Sequence after the "Gospel Acclamation" made no sense whatsoever.

Ergo, voila! We'll just move the Sequence to before the "Gospel Acclamation"...a sort of extended meditation, before we get on to the real business of the congregation leaping to its feet to "welcome" the Gospel. And this is what happens when you let "liturgists" (cf. "terrorists") run things.

So when it comes to the Sequence in the Novus Ordo Missae (i.e., ordinary form), the present state of affairs is dismal: in the USA, it is sung before the "Gospel Acclamation"; everywhere else in the Catholic world, it is sung in its rightful and historical place: after the Alleluia.

Now just sit back and relax and listen to it...aaaahhhhh....

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