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Liturgical Acclamations


Origin and history. The word acclamation originates from the Latin, acclamation, adclamation, conclamation, vox, etc.; and the Greek euphēmia, euphēmēsis, polychronion, polychronisma. The term was used to designate a formula pronounced or sung by a group to express a common sentiment or to address a specific person or object. Acclamations, widely used in the ancient world in pagan cults, have also been in evidence in Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. In both Western and Eastern Christendom, acclamations developed independently as expressions of homage and recognition of both spiritual and temporal dignitaries. They have been an important element in Christian liturgy throughout its development.

From early usage, acclamations were simple refrains or exclamations which were often sung. Ideally, an acclamation is an expression of the religious unison, or koinonia, of the faithful community. Werner identifies three functions of acclamations: (1) demonstrating the active participation of the community; (2) loudly confirming and professing a common faith; and (3) providing outlets for spontaneous expressions of religious emotion.

Several places in the Hebrew Scriptures record the use of "Amen" as an expression of affirmation or oath. Examples include Dt 27:15-26 and 1 Chr 16:36 or Ps 72:19 and Ps 106:48. All four Gospels record the public acclamation of "Hosanna" with which the crowds greeted Jesus at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Early Christians with Jewish roots naturally carried over their use of "Amen" in Jewish worship into their celebration of Christian liturgy.

Contemporary Usage. The liturgical renewal begun by Vatican II was instrumental in retrieving the important role of acclamations in Roman Catholic worship. Music in Catholic Worship (article 53) describes liturgical acclamations as "shouts of joy which arise from the whole assembly as forceful and meaningful assents to God's Word and Action." Because of their key role in the liturgy and because they enable the assembly's active participation, acclamations are most successful when they are "rhythmically strong, melodically appealing, and affirmative." The primary liturgical acclamations in the Eucharist include the Gospel Acclamation, the Holy or Sanctus, the Memorial Acclamation (with its four options), the Great Amen, and the Doxology of the Lord's Prayer. Such responses as "Thanks be to God" at the end of the readings and the "Amens" at the end of the various prayers are also considered acclamations.

In many ways, liturgical acclamations are an example of liturgical music as truly music of the liturgy. That is, acclamations are ritual music in the best sense of the term, providing the assembly with the opportunity to be actively engaged in the liturgical rite and in dialogue with the presider. In this sense, acclamations aptly suit the genius of the Roman Rite in a way that hymnody, for example, does not. This is because acclamations are intimately tied to the liturgical texts and the liturgical action. In fact, all of the important climaxes of the liturgical action are highlighted by the sung acclamations of the people. Through these acclamations, the worshiping assembly actively expresses their faith in the mystery being celebrated.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (article 39) and the Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass (article 23) also highlight the importance of singing the Gospel Acclamation. Such directives acknowledge the difficulty of uniting a group of people in an enthusiastic and unified expression of faith through mere speech. Indeed, Liturgical Music Today (article 17) highlights the musical nature of all of the acclamations when it describes them as "the preeminent sung prayers of the eucharistic liturgy."

Bibliography: g. chew, "Acclamation," in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London 1980) v.1, 3536. l. deiss, Visions of Liturgy and Music for a New Century (Collegeville 1996). j. gelineau, Voices and Instruments in Christian Worship: Principles, Laws, Applications (Collegeville 1964). e. werner, The Sacred Bridge: The Interdependence of Liturgy and Music in Synagogue and Church during the First Millennium (New York 1959).

[j. kubicki]

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