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The Alleluia Verse And The Hearing Of The Holy Gospel

A question was recently asked about the Alleluia Verse that precedes the gospel, noting that the words on our insert don't always match the words intoned by our Cantors; and I am always glad to discuss such questions since they are at the heart of our faith.

As for the technical answer I believe that the composer of the melodies used a slightly different text. This is not unusual since there are often multiple, but similar texts for liturgical elements. Uniformity is always best, and we will always strive for that; as well as for clear understanding.

But I would also like to say a few words about the Alleluia Verse which is ancient! Perhaps dating back to the apostolic church itself. To think that the church's liturgy can be so consistent for so long should cause one to praise God in glorious wonder! That is not the work of man, but of the Spirit of God, and places us squarely within the train of the saints of old.

The purpose of the Alleluia Verse is to introduce, anticipate, elevate and glorify the reading of the Holy Gospel. In the past the Gradual was used for the same purpose but, over time and usage, these things do change. (Keep that in mind for upcoming discussions on the subject of worship.) To appreciate this we must understand that the reading of the Holy Gospel is the high point of the first part of Divine Service, called "the Liturgy of the Word." There is, in other words, a good reason that we rise up to hear it!

The reading of the Gospel is not merely the imparting of information but is, in fact, the very presence of Jesus among his people. As he is Really Present in the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion, so he is in this hearing. The celebrant may be reading or chanting the words, but it is Jesus himself speaking to his people. It is the fulfillment of his promise: wherever two or three age gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20) And of his promise, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:18). This reading is a joyous meeting with Christ in which he fills us with power, life and sanctification.

St. Ignatius of Antioch (115 AD) writes in his first letter to the Magnesians (2:2) "I flee to the Gospel as to the Body of Christ." In other words, he recognized the real presence of Christ in the reading of the Holy Gospel.

This being the case the Gospel is preceded by the Alleluia Verse. Whereas much liturgical verse is a happy wedding of melody and words, the Alleluia Verse stresses the melody, as you can tell from the range of notes that our Cantors use. Such music is employed by the church for the precise purpose of expressing the transcendent nature of holy worship. It is meant to emphasize the emotional experience; something with which Lutherans are not always comfortable, but is none the less a vital expression of the worship of the True God.

The word Alleluia means: Praise the Lord, but in saying this the meaning is not exhausted. For the word itself is a transport of joy and praise which precedes the appearance of the Lord among his people (as are Holy, Blessed and Hosanna before the Eucharist). It is a reaction to his coming and serves as a greeting in the most profound sense of the word, and a confirmation of our faith in these holy words. Words in which the Groom expresses his love to the ears of his redeemed Bride (Ephesians 5:25 ff) in anticipation of the holy communion which is yet to come.

More could be said, but let this suffice for now.


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