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Sequences in the Liturgy

June 2, 2024

At various times during the Church year, there are feasts that have been very popular amongst various parts of the Church, and they were celebrated in particular ways with some additions that emphasized the importance of that feast to the people of God. One of the ways that particular feasts were celebrated was by the use of the Sequence. The Sequence is a poem, in the form of a chant that speaks of the character and the theology of the feast. They find their beginning around the 9th century during the high period of Gregorian Chant in Europe. It quickly grew in popularity to the point where in some places there were sequences every Sunday. The reforms during the counter reformation reigned in the practice to limit the number of sequences in the liturgy. In 1570 there are 4 sequences that are allowed: Victimae paschali laudes (praise the Paschal victim) for Easter, Veni Sancte Spiritus (come Holy Spirit) for Pentecost, Lauda Sion (praise o Sion) for Corpus Christi and Dies irae (day of wrath) for All Souls’ Day and Requiem Masses that immediately follow a death. Then, in 1727, the Stabat mater (at the Cross her station keeping) was added for the new feast of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady.

Sequences still exist, however they also have suffered from the destruction of the liturgical traditions of the Church, which is why so many today have really no idea about what the Sequence is or why it is important. There are now only two that are mandatory: the Victimae paschali and the Veni Sancte Spiritus. The Laude Sion is “recommended”, the Stabat mater is optional and the Dies irae is practically never used outside of the breviary.

At the parish level, we have been trying to help bring back these sequences in the Liturgy, even if it is only by recitation. The ultimate goal is at some point to make it so that we can all chant them together. This weekend we will hear the Laude Sion sequence and to help us appreciate it a bit more, we will touch on a bit of the history. This sequence was authored around the year 1264 by St. Thomas Aquinas for the feast of Corpus Christi. It was intended for use during the Mass and was later adapted into a hymn for the procession, which is one of the reasons for its length. It provides a summary of the history and teaching on the Eucharist to honor the great solemnity being celebrated. It is a rhythmic and poetic presentation of what we believe concerning the Eucharist, so this weekend it would be good to take a moment and really read over the text. Hopefully at some point we can add that hymn - “Praise o Zion, voices raising” – which is based on the sequence, to the hymns we sing in Church.

God love you, Fr. Anthony

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