When General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) 63 states that “the Alleluia or the Verse before the Gospel, if not sung, may be omitted,” does this allowance imply that the Lectionary text ought to be omitted when it is not sung, or that it should be spoken in these cases?
A: The GIRM’s instruction on the Alleluia and the Verse before the Gospel presents a number of variables for the carrying out of the rite, which take into account both the character of the liturgical season and the rank of the celebration. As a general rule, the Alleluia and its verse are sung outside of Lent, and during Lent only the verse given in the Lectionary is sung.[i] When only one reading precedes the Gospel (as in weekday Masses) a Responsorial Psalm with the response “Alleluia” may directly precede the Gospel, otherwise the Alleluia or Verse before the Gospel may be omitted entirely.
As with almost every instruction given by the liturgical books, however, these options are never given without underlying reasons and principles that speak to the sacramental significance and inner meaning of the rites which should inform the decision made in practice. At the very least, these decisions should never merely be left to “private inclination or arbitrary choice.”[ii]
First, in the description of the Alleluia and Verse before the Gospel in GIRM, 62, we find two important indications of the rite’s significance: 1) it is to be sung,[iii] and 2) the act of singing it “constitutes a rite or act in itself.” Unlike the Entrance Chant, Responsorial Psalm, and Communion Chant, where the antiphons given in the liturgical books should be recited when they are not sung, the Alleluia and Verse are among the texts that are “in principle meant to be sung,” [iv] and therefore may simply be omitted when “it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses)” to sing them. [v]
In this ritual action “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” (See GIRM, 62). Therefore, its significance is found in the faithful coming face to face with the Lord for which an acclamation of praise is necessary. An insight on liturgical singing from Joseph Ratzinger comes to mind: “When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. Areas of his existence are awakened that spontaneously turn into song.”[vi]
The history of the Alleluia chant itself speaks to a kind of ritualized spontaneous song, as shown in the chant’s very form in the Graduale Romanum. While the various Alleluia chants found in the Graduale—as with the Tracts for Lent—are particularly florid pieces that highlight their musical character, each Alleluia melody concludes with a “iubilus”—a moment of pure melody on the final syllable of Alleluia which transcends the rational meaning of the word, ascending into a moment of pure musical praise and ecstasy. To merely recite the word “Alleluia” utterly fails to convey the significance of these chants.
It must be acknowledged also that traditional rubrics for the Roman Rite require the Alleluia or Gospel Verse (Tract) to be spoken when they are not sung, and so the GIRM also permits the possibility of mere recitation. But when this option is employed the entire text given should be recited, not merely the word “Alleluia.” In light of the importance of the chant before the Gospel, however, nothing prohibits singing it in an otherwise mostly recited Mass.
Finally, we should also note that GIRM 62 and 63 do not permit for the Alleluia or Verse to be omitted when there are two readings before the Gospel. On Sundays and Solemnities when these readings are provided, the Acclamation before the Gospel—strictly speaking—must be sung in full. In this way it will best radiate its full significance as an act of sung praise and expression of faith offered to, and even through, the Logos—the Eternal Word of God who we come face to face with in the Gospel.
– Answered by Adam Bartlett, president and co-founder of the Source and Summit Institute, and president and editor of Illuminare Publications
[i] A “Lenten Gospel Acclamation” (e.g., “Praise to you, Lord, Jesus Christ, king of endless glory”) is not required to be sung, but is only offered as a possibility in the Lectionary for Mass (see Introduction, 91). The normative form given by both the Lectionary and the Graduale Romanum is a single verse that is sung without an acclamation or refrain.
[ii] See GIRM 42.
[iii] A conviction underscored by the Introduction to the Lectionary 23: “The Alleluia or the verse before the Gospel must be sung, and during it all stand.”
[iv] See GIRM 40.
[vi] Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 136.