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Thursday, November 2, 2017
The (5) Sequences in the Church: A History and Tradition of Sequences
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What is a Sequence? If you are unfamiliar with the Traditional (Tridentine) Latin Mass, you may not know.  The sequence is the chanted hymn that is recited before the proclamation of the Gospel during the Mass.  The Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes:
The Sequence (Sequentia)—or, more accurately as will be seen further on, the Prose (Prosa)—is the liturgical hymn of the Mass, in which it occurs on festivals between the Gradual and the Gospel, while the hymn, properly so called, belongs to the Breviary. The Sequence differs also in structure and melody from the hymn; for whilst all the strophes of a hymn are always constructed according to the same metre and rhythm and are sung to the same melody as the first strophe, it is the peculiarity of the Sequence, due to its origin, that (at least in those of the first epoch) each strophe or pair of strophes is constructed on a different plan. A sequence usually begins with an independent introductory sentence or an Alleluia (an intonation with its own melody); then follow several pairs of strophes, each pair with its own melody; in the earlier periods the conclusion is uniformly an independent sentence of shorter or longer form.
The sequence which is used in the Traditional Mass is used only on five occasions in the 1962 Missal though it used to be commonplace before the reforms of St. Pius V.  The Book Catholic Music through the Ages: Balancing the Needs of a Worshipping Church states that Sequences were so plentiful before the reforms of St. Pius V that nearly every Mass had its own sequence.  Fr. Michael Wurtz's July 2011 article on Sequences concurs when he writes, "From the 9th century when sequences first began to appear and later in the 12th century when they grew in complexity, hundreds of these hybrid Alleluia verses-hymns were composed and used in the Mass." And commenting on the work of St. Pius V's reform, Michael Davies further writes, "[he] expelled the host of long sequences that crowded the Mass continually, but kept what are undoubtedly the five best"

In the Missal of Pope St. Pius V from 1570, the many number of sequences in the Roman Rite was reduced to only four:
  • Victimae paschali laudes for Easter
  • Veni Sancte Spiritus for Pentecost 
  • Lauda Sion Salvatorem for Corpus Christi 
  • Dies Irae for All Souls and in Masses for the Dead
Nearly 150 years after St. Pius V's changes, the 13th century Stabat Mater for Our Lady of Sorrows was added to this list, bringing the total to the number five.  These are the same five which survive in the 1962 Missal that is used today in the Traditional Mass.

Also of note however, certain religious orders retain their own Rite of Mass and the possibility of using other sequences.  For instance, the Christmas sequence "Laetabundus," not present in the Roman Missal, is found in the Dominican Missal. This sequence is permitted for the Third Mass of Christmas, the Epiphany, and Candlemas.

Quiz your Catholic friends and see how many of them can name all five!


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