Monday, 15 February 2010

The Burial of the Alleluia

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.
Alleluia thou resoundest, true Jerusalem and free;
alleluia, joyful mother,all thy children sing with thee;
but by Babylon's sad waters mourning exiles now are we.
Alleluia cannot always be our song while here below;
alleluia our transgressionsmake us for a while forgo;
for the solemn time is coming when our tears for sin must flow.
Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee, grant us, blessed Trinity,
at the last to keep Thine Easter, in our home beyond the sky,
there to Thee for ever singing alleluia joyfully.
A Rubric in Common Worship: Daily Prayer records:
On Shrove Tuesday, ‘Alleluia, alleluia’ may be added to the financial versicle and response at Evening Prayer. After Night Prayer on Shrove Tuesday, ‘Alleluia’ is not said again until Easter Day.
This is a remnant of the Burial of the Alleluia, a medieval ceremony that marked a certain amount of liturgical restraint during the season of Lent. Before the reform of the Church’s Calendar, JM Neale’s translation of a Latin Hymn, described simply as Before 11th Century in The English Hymnal, was set to be sung on Septuagesima, 70 days before Easter, when the Lenten mood of the Liturgy began. The version quoted here, from a translation in New English Praise, is suggested for use on the Sunday next before Lent.
A Liturgical farewell to the shout of praise, the restraint from Alleluia is a sign of the Church’s exile in this coming season of Lent. Medieval Liturgy, half religious ceremony, half pageant, found ways of literally burying a piece of parchment on which the word was inscribed, sometimes with musical notation. Sometimes the burial took place in the Churchyard, sometimes in the Easter Sepulchre, where it was joined by the Blessed Sacrament on Maundy Thursday, and a wooden cross on Good Friday, for all three had a part to play in the Easter Liturgy.
The musical notation gave the note for the Song of Triumph on Easter Day, for it is the joyful restoration of Alleluia, not its absence that is the point. When the Bishop presides at the Easter Vigil, a modern Roman Rubric suggests that, before the first Alleluia that precedes the Easter Gospel, a deacon should approach with the words, ‘’Most Reverend Father, I bring you a message of great joy, the message of Alleluia’. Liturgical restraint does not forbid the use of the word in other contexts of course; I treasure a story told by a priest friend, of how the choir in his first Parish practised for Easter Day by miming the word, not so much ‘He said Jehovah’, (Life of Brian fans), more don’t mention the Scottish Play, (or Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth, Simpsons fans.)
May the Lord of all compassion grant us grace to keep a holy and joyful Lent.
Let us Bless the Lord, Alleluia, Alleluia
Thank be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia.