Singing the Gospel

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: I know that the Gospel is to be sung during Christmas and Easter Holy Mass. Because each are a «season,» does that entitle or require the deacon or priest to sing the Gospel every Sunday of the season or just during the octave of said season? For the past four to five years I have been singing the Gospel during the «Christmas and Easter season.» Are we to proclaim, emphasize via song, the good news of the season? I do not see a clear-cut word in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal or in the missal itself. — C.D., Pendleton, California

A: Actually there is no rule which would oblige the Gospel to be sung in any particular season nor any norm that would restrict its being sung outside of these seasons.

In other words, the Gospel could theoretically be either sung or read on any day of the year. The choice as to do one or the other is based on such circumstances as the solemnity of the liturgical day or season, the ability of the minister to do so adequately, and the overall pastoral efficacy of the practice.

That said, it is highly recommendable to sing the Gospel on all major solemnities and feasts so as to underline its importance within the celebration.

The liturgical norms also highly recommend the singing of the responsorial psalm.

This does not mean that the singing of the other readings is to be excluded if the readers can be sufficiently well trained. The Gregorian tradition has several chants that are commonly used in solemn Masses. One chant is for the Old Testament, another for the Epistle, and a third for the Gospel. The importance of the latter is underlined, not just by the fact of its being sung, but by the solemnity of the introduction, the procession of the Book of Gospels, the use of incense, and its proclamation being reserved to an ordained minister.

In recent years, several composers have proposed relatively simple chants adapted to the particular musical traditions of each local language.

Regarding the importance of singing at Mass, the Introduction to the Roman Missal says the following:

«39. The Christian faithful who gather together as one to await the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Col 3:16). Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy (cf. Acts 2:46). Thus Saint Augustine says rightly, ‘Singing is for one who loves.’ There is also the ancient proverb: ‘One who sings well prays twice.’

«40. Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.

«In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together.

«41. All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.

«Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, set to the simpler melodies.»

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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