Responsorial psalm and Gospel acclamation

    Why do we sing the responsorial psalm each week?
    Following the first reading, there is a moment of silence to reflect on the Word of God that was just proclaimed. After reflecting on the Scripture message, all are invited to respond by singing a response taken from the Book of Psalms. It is called the responsorial psalm because it is our response to the Word of God. There is a scriptural refrain that we pray after each stanza of the Psalm. The Book of Psalms is chosen because it has expressed the faith of believers for centuries and is filled with prayers of praise, thanksgiving, repentance, sorrow, trust and hope that serve as an appropriate response to the reading just proclaimed.  
    If it is impossible to sing on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation, it is permissible to recite the responsorial psalm in a manner conducive to meditation. It is interesting to note that the Book of Psalms is the only book that is read from at almost every liturgy with a few exceptions.
    Why do we sing an acclamation before the Gospel? What does the word “Alleluia” mean?
    After the second reading, but prior to the Gospel reading, the congregation stands as the Gospel acclamation is sung.  During all of the liturgical seasons except for Lent, the Gospel acclamation is “Alleluia.” The word Alleluia comes from a Hebrew word, and its most literal translation means “Praise God.” This acclamation is a way of praising God and preparing our hearts to receive the Word of God in the Gospel. After the Alleluia is sung once, a Scripture verse is sung that points to, and usually summarizes, the Gospel reading about to be proclaimed. After the verse, the Alleluia is sung again.
    Because Alleluia is a word of solemn praise and rejoicing, we do not use it during Lent as there is a more somber tone to the liturgy. This absence is also a reminder that Lent is a time of preparing for the great season of Easter that is summarized by the word “Alleluia.” During Lent, Alleluia is replaced by one of several possible acclamations such as: “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.”
    If a deacon is proclaiming the Gospel, why does he go to receive a blessing from the priest before going to the ambo?
    In all Masses, there is a priest who is the primary celebrant, or presider, of the liturgy.  Because the role of the deacon is to assist the priest in his ministry, he goes to the priest to receive a blessing.  The priest, as the presider of the liturgy, gives a blessing to the deacon as a way of preparing him to proclaim the Gospel so that he may perform this ministry more worthily.
    What does the deacon say to the priest? What does the priest say back to the deacon?
    As he bows, the deacon says, “Your Blessing, Father.” The priest replies in a low voice, “May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips that you may proclaim his Gospel worthily and well, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The deacon signs himself with the Sign of the Cross and replies, “Amen.”
    If there is no deacon and the priest is going to proclaim the Gospel, what does he pray as he stands before the altar?
    The priest, bowing before the altar, prays quietly, “Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel.” This prayer is a scriptural reference to the response of Isaiah when God called him to be a prophet.  He said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).  After Isaiah made this prayer, a seraphim angel touched his lips with ember from the altar and said, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged” (6:7). This prayer serves as a reminder to the priest of his unworthiness to proclaim to Gospel if it were not for God’s grace and mercy.
    Why does the priest or deacon process around with the book of the Gospels?
    After the deacon has received a blessing from the priest or the priest has prayed before the altar, he picks up the Book of the Gospels that usually is placed on the altar during the opening procession and raises it up for all to see. After showing the Book of the Gospel to the people while they are singing the Alleluia, he processes to the ambo where the Gospel will be proclaimed. Because the book of the Gospels contains the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, we reverence not the physical book, but what it contains: his message of hope and salvation.  The procession of the book is a way of reverencing the Gospel of Christ.
    Tim Hedrick is a second year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at thedrick@nds.edu.

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