Monday, March 06, 2006

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Ah. That felt good.

Those of my readers in the Roman Church are doubtless a bit scandalized that I shout "Alleluia!" from my web-soapbox. Isn't it Lent? Aren't we not supposed to say it? It's a forbidden word until the Easter Vigil in the Latin Rite. But, you see, I am a Byzantine Catholic, and I can say Alleluia all I want. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

I'm not sure what the particular reasons are for the absence of "Alleluia" in the West. The woman on Relevant Radio this morning said that it was because "Alleluia" betokens joy, and Lent isn't a time of joy. This struck me as odd, and an area where the Eastern Church can enlighten us. What could be more joyful than a life of peace and repentance? To turn away from sins, especially those that have long held us in chains, is an occasion for great joy. To fast, to discipline one's body so that the needs of the soul may be better attended to, is an occasion to shout "Alleluia!" In our liturgy the deacon prays on our behalf: "That we may spend the rest of our life in peace and repentance, let us beseech the Lord." That's the goal of life, to spend it in a constant metanoia, a constant turning of ourselves back to God. In Lent we focus on this more, and so, in the Eastern Churches, we sing "Alleluia" more often than outside of Lent.

There must be a better reason for foregoing "Alleluia" in the Latin Rite than simply because it is too joyful. Lent is a time of exceedingly great joy.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!


Ryan Platte said...

People seriously refrain from saying Alleluia during Lent?!? I had never heard that, and couldn't have dreamed it up.

Jane said...

In terms of the chant we sing before the Gospel (the most prominent appearance of "Alleluia" in the Roman liturgy), it isn't a matter of the Alleluia being omitted during Lent, though many people think of it that way. Historically (as in, 7th Century) there was a Tract (long, melismatic, multi-verse chant with mostly psalm verses as the text) before the Gospel. Eventually, the Tract was replaced by the Alleluia on Easter Sunday, then for the whole Easter season, and then all the time...except for Lent, which retained the Tract. The Tracts we sing in Lent are some of the oldest chants in the Gregorian repertoire, along with the chants for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.

I don't know why the Alleluia never made it into Lent. Perhaps the reason generally given, that Lent is a time of solemnity and penitence, is the reason. At any rate, not singing the Alleluia during Lent is one of our oldest remaining liturgical practices, so please don't knock it: we Romans need to cling hard and fast to the few ancient traditions we have left!

We'll be happy to join you in many choruses of "Alleluia" on Easter, since from Easter until Pentecost, all 5 of the Proper chants for every Sunday contain the word "Alleluia" (decidedly not the norm for the rest of the year).

Karl said...

Dear Jane,

I certainly don't mean to knock the practice of the Roman church. I'm sorry if it seemed that way. I didn't think RelevantRadioLady's explanation was good. Yours is better. It is a law of liturgy that the more important feasts maintain the more ancient customs. It's interesting that the Alleluia is a later addition.

Jane said...

Don't worry, you didn't come across as knocking the practice. I was being a little sarcastic, which discussing the traditions of the Roman liturgy sometimes tempts me to be, since I am well aware of the current deficit of tradition of the Roman rite.

Robert said...

There is no rule against a Roman Catholic saying Alleluia during Lent. It is simply not done in the liturgy. Lent is a season of joy for Romans; our liturgy says so.

Bernard Brandt said...

My understanding (garnered from reading Dom Gregory Dix's wonderful work, The Shape of the Liturgy) is that the Patriarchal church of Jerusalem began the practice of singing Alleluia during the Divine Liturgy. It very quickly spread to the rest of the Patriarchates, finally reaching Rome around the fourth century. By that time, the Alleluia had become a very ornate chant, especially in Constantinople.

Rome, being renowned as the most conservative of the Patriarchates, was a bit dubious of this newfangled business. At that time as well, the Old Roman and Ambrosian Chant of the time was rather simpler than the more ornate Gregorian chant of the fifth and sixth centuries, and Romans prefered the virtues of gravitas and simplicitas to the more ornate Syrian and Byzantine chants. Thus, one pope of the fourth century (whose name at present escapes me; when you pass 50, the nouns start to disappear) decreed that the Alleluia, being a particularly ornate chant, would not be sung during such penitential seasons as Great Lent. The practice has continued to the present.

Having been a Russian Catholic for the last nineteen or so years, I personally feel that one should not fast from praising God (which is what alleluia basically means. But I can understand the original motivation of the old Romans, and I can respect modern Romans for continuing the practice.

I'm also impressed with Jane's contribution to the discussion here. I think it was Fr. David Anderson, formerly of Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Ben Lomond, who pointed out to me that we can tell that some of the Gregorian Chant may be as early as the third century; this from the fact that some of the texts are from the really Old Latin translation of the Bible, rather than the Vulgate of St. Jerome (commissioned by Pope Damasus in the fourth century).

Jane said...

Mr. Brandt,

In addition to some of the very old Latin chants, a very limited number are from sources that didn't make it into the canon of Scripture. The most notable is the text used over and over in the Mass for the Dead (Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis) which is from IV Esdras. The use of this text suggests to me that this particular chant has a very long history.

Paul said...

Lent is holy season; only the American English liturgical translation calls it "joyous." The Latin is "in ieiunio tempore," which would best be translated "this time of abstinence."

As someone else said, "that's not translating; that's editorializing."


Robert said...

Well, perhaps ICEL has done it again, but that does not change the fundamental argument that Lent is a joyful, if sober, season.

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