What is a Sequence and why do we still sing and pray them today?

Back nearly 1000 years ago, the church celebrated Mass quite differently than we do today. One of the structural differences of the Mass that began to take shape was that the Alleluia was not a Gospel Acclamation, but rather a psalm response to the Second Reading, and therefore a meditation point to lead us into the Gospel. As a separate Gospel Acclamation, most Sundays the Church used a Sequence and these were the ‘real Gospel Acclamations of the time.

The council of Trent abolished the use of most Sequences and the Second Vatican Council changed the nature of the Alleluia from Psalmic reflection (have you ever wondered why the Alleluias we sing now have such a different character from the Alleluias of old?) to actual Gospel Acclamation and the verses explored now became associated with not just the New Testament, but most specifically with the Gospels as premediated reflections on what we were about to hear.

Notice only most Sequences were abolished. In fact of the hundreds in existence, the church maintained 5 Sequences (Easter Pentecost, Corpus Christi, Our Lady of Sorrows, and All Saints) and only asks that as a matter of course we do at the minimum the Easter and Pentecost Sequences during the year.

Here is the way the Sequence works today: it is an introduction to the Gospel Procession, so we don’t stand right away- in fact we wait, absorbing the prayer of the moment, a blessing invoking the descent of the Holy Spirit upon those gathered in our ‘Room of Worship’ until you hear the word Alleluia. At that point, we all rise in anticipation of hearing the words, thoughts, and life of Jesus, himself.


Therese Gorman
Director of Liturgy and Music
St. John Vianney, Walnut Creek