I Survived Pentecost Mass

I got through singing the Pentecost Sequence (“Veni Sancte Spiritus”) in English (“Holy Spirit, Lord Divine”), solo.

It’s really not all that hard, and it’s a beautiful song for pretty much any voice. All you have to do is sing it in the right key.

But since it’s no longer common to teach kids the sequence when they’re itty-bitty, it seems intimidating to choirs unfamiliar with it. And so, of course it’s a bit intimidating if you sing it solo, especially if you’re not a well-trained singing deacon.

There’s also another complication. All else being equal, really a deacon should sing it. A sequence is not just a song; it’s both a sort of poetic reading and a formal liturgical prayer. It’s located right next before the Alleluia (aka Gospel Acclamation) and hence it’s right next to the Gospel. Reading the Gospel is historically a job for a deacon (if you have one) or a priest or bishop (if you don’t). So all the Church year’s sequences belong to deacons, really. And if you’ve ever heard a deacon with a good voice, you will support this wholeheartedly.

That failing, you want a male singer, or the males in the choir, or the whole choir (and the congregation, with any luck!! The whole congregation singing is awesome!!). On the historical liturgical scale of desirability, female soloist or female choir (except in a female convent, where it’s totally normal and highly solemn, for obvious reasons!) is pretty much dead last.* Except for the less good and really dire options.**

(*That’s not a denigration of feminine singing powers or female sanctity; it’s about liturgical roles. It’s the same thing as voice-only/a capella having priority over organ instrumentation, and organ having priority over all other instruments; or chant having priority over polyphony, and polyphony having priority over all other music, and having no songs being last. You need to know which liturgical music option you’re using, why, and its order of desirability. So if we’d had a male singer who knew the song, you bet I would have wanted him to do it. Alas, no men are in the choir at present, because it’s summer and there’s barely anybody at the university church right now!)

(** After female singer/s on sequences, you go to “read it out loud,” (less good) “read a prose version because your parish doesn’t think laypeople understand poetry,” “substitute a song which is allegedly an equivalent to the sequence, but isn’t”, “forget to read it by accident,” and “intentionally skip the sequence entirely, like 75% of American Catholic parishes.”)

And honestly, almost anything is better than “skip it,” because that’s the stupidest and most boring option.

So basically, if you are lucky enough to have anyone do the sequence at all, and it’s not a well-established tradition in your parish, that person or persons feels pressure to demonstrate that sequences are not some forgettable option. Also, it didn’t make me into a deacon or anything; but it was pinch-hitting for one of their specific duties.

So yeah, I did fine, thanks to experience and knowing the song from singing it before in choir. I was pleased, because it’s a wonderful treasure of the Church and a lovely invocation of the Holy Spirit. People tend to forget about Him because He’s always there, so I was very happy to get a chance to honor him!

But afterward, my hands shook, and I had to eat pretty quickly after Mass. I’m still pretty keyed up, as you can probably tell!

UPDATED with another option and explanatory asterisks.



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4 responses to “I Survived Pentecost Mass

  1. Good on you! Thank you for keeping the Sequences alive. At our mass, the choir didn’t show up (probably because they did the all-night Pentecost “vigil” a/k/a Praise and Worship Thingy and couldn’t be bothered for the actual mass. Needless to say, the sequence was omitted, but probably better that than some random hymn taking its place.

  2. Oh, yeah, I forgot the “song that is allegedly the same as, or equivalent to, the sequence, except it’s really not”. I have heard stories, but I’ve never actually seen it done. (Shudder.)

    All-night prayer vigil for Confirmation would be pretty hardcore, however you did it. Although chant is always the preferred option. 🙂

    The trick is to find the people who don’t want to do the late night bit, and assign them to sing at the morning Masses. 🙂

  3. Joy

    I’m sure you did beautifully. I love to hear you sing!

  4. Thomas

    Impressive to do that sort of thing! I didn’t know the Sequence was optional since our parish always does it. I think there’s a cumulative effect since its growing on me over time.

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