Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 11, 2001
Why are Easter readings different?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
On Easter Sunday, the Easter Sequence was sung in our church. What is a Sequence and what is its origin?
There are two categories of chant used in the liturgy. The first are the ordinary, that is, those with fixed texts such as the Kyrie, Gloria and Sanctus, the second are those of the proper that change with the Mass such as the Sequence. There used to be a number of others such as Gradual, Offertory and Communion.
During the centuries, the Alleluia had become elaborate with ever-richer vocalization. The Sequence grew out of this elaborate Alleluia.
In the 10th century, a chant was added as a substitute for the long ending of the Alleluia, perhaps because it is easier to memorize words than the prolonged alleluias. As a result, the Sequence came after the Alleluia but in our liturgy today, it precedes the Alleluia, coming right after the Second Reading, as you would have noticed at the Easter Sunday Mass.
The Sequence is a hymn of joy in the form of a liturgical poem. It is a syllabic chant in rhythmic form.
During the Middle Ages, sequences became popular with some 5,000 being composed for Sundays and feast days although they were less popular in Rome. Many of them were very beautiful.
However, the reforms of Pius V (1570) and the Council of Trent abolished most of them, leaving only five. Today, four are used but only two are obligatory and they must be sung.
The one you heard on Easter Sunday Vicitimae Pascali Laudes is a joyous hymn of praise to Christ, victorious over death.
The Pentecost Sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus, calls upon the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with Light Divine and cleanse us from sin. One of its beautiful verses stresses the essential nature of the work of the Spirit: "Left without your presence here, life itself would disappear, nothing thrives apart from you."
The other two are not obligatory and therefore, we may miss the opportunity of praying with these beautiful hymns. The first, the Sequence for Corpus Christi, expresses our joy and gratitude to Christ for giving us his body and blood at the Last Supper.
The other, the Stabat Mater, used on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, joins our sorrow to that of Mary seeing the suffering of her son. Who doesn't know the verse we've used so much at the Stations of the Cross: "At the cross her station keeping stood the mournful mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last?"
There are others that are familiar to us, although they are no longer part of the Eucharistic liturgy proper. Among these is the Dies Irae, which is often sung at funerals and is part of the Office of the Dead and was once part of the Requiem Mass.
O Filii et Filliae (Oh Sons and Daughters) is another which is sometimes sung at Easter time. It was beautiful to hear this Easter hymn (as well as others) sung by the combined choir at the Easter Sunrise Service at Edmonton's City Hall and televised across the country.