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The Sequence

posted Apr 16, 2016, 6:58 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Apr 16, 2016, 6:59 AM ]
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal directs that “the Sequence, which is optional except on Easter Sunday and on Pentecost Day, is sung before the Alleluia” (
64).

The sequence is a hymn, usually written in rhyming couplets, related to a particular liturgical feast. In big churches of the middle ages, it became customary to prolong the last syllable of the Alleluia while the deacon ascended the ambo to chant the Gospel. This prolonged melisma (a series of notes on a single syllable) was called the jubilus because of its jubilant tone. In the 9
th century a Benedictine monk began setting words to these notes, which were called sequentia, "sequence," because they followed (Latin: sequi) the Alleluia.

By the 16
th century there were sequences for almost every day of the year, so the Council of Trent reduced them to four: Easter’s Victimae paschali laudes; Pentecost’s Veni Sancte Spritius; Corpus Christi’s Lauda Sion Salvatorem and All Souls’ Dies Irae. Then in 2002, their order was reversed so they’re now sung before the Alleluia, or Gospel Acclamation.

The Easter sequence was written during the 11
th century. Though frequently chanted, it’s been famously set to other music by many Renaissance composers, including Josquin des Prez, Orlande de Lassus, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and William Byrd.