Goodbye to My Friend: The Slow Dying of Alleluia
This slow liturgical dying of the Alleluia is a symbol of the slow dying of the light of Faith in the West. Without Faith, we cannot worship. Without Faith, Alleluias will slowly die away. This is precisely what Pope Benedict XVI wants us to remedy this year, in this Year of Faith.
The purple vestments of the season of Lent beckon
A couple of Sundays ago, it was Septuagesima Sunday in the traditional rite. In the traditional calendar, Septuagesima Sunday ushered in a pre-Lenten season known as Septuagesimatide or Shrovetide. Seventy liturgical days before Easter (Septuagesima means "seventy"), the priest wears purple vestments to remind us that Lent is coming, and on this Sunday worshipers begin fasting from the Alleluia.
Under the old rite, from Septuagesima Sunday until the Easter Vigil, the Alleluia was no longer use in the liturgy. This custom is known as the depositio Alleluia, the laying down, the giving up, or the lowering (as if into a grave) of the Alleluia.
Under the new, ordinary rite, the depositio Alleluia does not begin until Lent itself, in other words, on Ash Wednesday. So until Ash Wednesday, I will not experience a full depositio or death of the Alleluia, but perhaps something more like a moriens Alleluia, a liturgical fading away or dying of the Alleluia.
Instead of the Alleluia being lowered and folded up like a flag given the parents of a fallen marine, for three weeks the Alleluia will be flown at half-mast, and that three-week interlude has made me value that Hebrew word of praise which speaks of the things of heaven even more.
In his commentaries on the Divine Office, Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, the 13th century bishop of the diocese of Mende in the province of Narbonne in Southern France, William Durandus wrote regarding the depositio Alleluia: "We part from the alleluia as from a beloved friend, whom we embrace many times and kiss on the mouth, head, and hand, before we leave him."
While in the past I have experienced the sudden liturgical death of the Alleluia, I have never experienced what we might call the liturgical slow dying of the Alleluia. I am watching my dear friend slowly die, like I watched my mother and father slowly die, and it pains me.
This slow liturgical dying of the Alleluia is a symbol of the slow dying of the light of Faith in the West. Without Faith, we cannot worship. Without Faith, Alleluias will slowly die away. This is precisely what Pope Benedict XVI wants us to remedy this year, in the Year of Faith. Pope Benedict XVI knows that:
The dead [in faith] shall not praise thee, O Lord;
Nor any of them that go down to hell. (Ps. 115:17 [113:25])
The Alleluia is one of those rare words--like Amen or Sabbaoth--that have remained untranslated in the liturgy from their original Hebrew. Alleluia is a transliteration of the Hebrew word which means "Praise Yah," short for "Praise Yahweh," or "Praise He who is." It is a word that is intended to contain within it the meaning of unspeakable joy, and a foretaste of heaven.
As St. Augustine says in one of his sermons, it will be in heaven that our entire activity will be Amen and Alleluia. Tota action nostra, amen et alleluia erit. As the 11th century hymn Alleluia dulce carmen (Alleluia Song of Sweetness) puts it:
Alleluia dulce carmen,
Vox perennis gaudii,
Alleluia laus suavis
Est choris coelestibus,
Quam canunt Dei manentes
In domo per saecula.
Alleluia, song of sweetness,
Voice of joy that cannot die;
Alleluia is the anthem
Ever raised by choirs on high;
In the house of God abiding
Thus they sing eternally.
While in heaven the life of the saved will be all Amen and all Alleluia as St. Augustine notes (cf. also Rev. 19:1-4), in this valley of tears there are things that can separate us from God and hence from the hope of salvation and eternal life.
It is precisely these separating things that our fasting from the Alleluia is intended to remind us to focus on. In all we believe and all we do, we must say "Amen"--so be it!--to God in this life if we are to say that word of joy "Alleluia" in the next. Tristitia vestra, alleluia, vertetur in gaudium, alleluia. Your sorrow, alleluia, shall be turned into joy, alleluia.
Therefore, we must know the Church's Faith, and know the Church's teachings on morals, and we must learn to live them with absolute integrity as we bind ourselves in love more completely to Jesus the Lord, the only ...
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