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From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Suspension of the Alleluia

The calendar of the liturgical year will soon bring us to the commemoration of the Passion and Resurrection of our Redeemer; we are but nine weeks from these great solemnities. It is time for the Christian to be preparing his soul for a fresh visit from his Saviour; a visit even more sacred and more important than that He so mercifully paid us at His Birth.

Our holy mother the Church knows how necessary it is for her to rouse our hearts from their lethargy, and give them an active tendency towards the things of God. On this day, the eve of Septuagesima, she uses a powerful means for infusing her own spirit into the minds of her children. She takes the song of heaven away from us: she forbids our further uttering that Alleluia, which is so dear to us, as giving us a fellowship with the choirs of angels, who are for ever repeating it. How is it that we poor mortals, sinners, and exiles on earth, have dared to become so familiar with this hymn of a better land? It is true, our Emmanuel, who established peace between God and men, brought it us from heaven on the glad night of His Birth; and we have had the courage to repeat it after the angels, and shall chant it with renewed enthusiasm when we reach our Easter. But to sing the Alleluia worthily, we must have our hearts set on the country whence it came. It is not a mere word, nor a profane unmeaning melody; it is the song that recalls the land we are banished from, it is the sweet sigh of the soul longing to be at home.

The word Alleluia signifies praise God: but it says much more than this, and says it as no other word or words could. The Church is not going to interrupt her giving praise to God during these nine weeks. She will replace this heaven-lent word by a formula also expressive of praise: Laus tibi, Domine, Rex æternæ gloriæ! Praise be to Thee, O Lord, King of eternal glory! But this is the language of earth; whereas Alleluia was sent us from heaven. Alleluia,’ says the devout Abbot Rupert, ‘is like a stranger amidst our other words. Its mysterious beauty is as though a drop of heaven’s overflowing joy had fallen down on our earth. The patriarchs and prophets relished it, and then the Holy Ghost put it on the lips of the apostles, from whom it flowed even to us. It signifies the eternal feast of the angels and saints, which consists in their endless praise of God, and in ceaselessly singing their ever new admiration of the beauty of the God on whose Face they are to gaze for everlasting ages. This mortal life of ours can in no wise attain such bliss as this. But, to know where it is to be found, and to have a foretaste of it by the happiness of hope, and to hunger and thirst for what we thus taste, this is the perfection of saints here below. For this reason, the word Alleluia has not been translated; it has been left in its original Hebrew, as a stranger to tell us that there is a joy in his native land, which could not dwell in ours: he has come among us to signify, rather than to express that joy.'[1]

During this season of Septuagesima, we have to gain a clear knowledge of the miseries of our banishment, under pain of being left for ever in this tyrant Babylon. It was, therefore, necessary that we should be put on our guard against the allurements of our place of exile. It is with this view that the Church, taking pity on our blindness and our dangers, gives us this solemn warning. By taking from us our Alleluia, she virtually tells us that our lips must first be cleansed, before they again be permitted to utter this word of angels and saints; and that our hearts, defiled as they are by sin and attachment to earthly things, must be purified by repentance. She is going to put before our eyes the sad spectacle of the fall of our first parents, that dire event whence came all our woes, and our need of Redemption. This tender mother weeps over us, and would have us weep with her.

Let us, then, comply with the law she thus imposes upon us. If spiritual joy is thus taken away from us, what are we to think of the frivolous amusements of the world? And if vanities and follies are insults to the spirit of Septuagesima, would not sin be an intolerable outrage on that same spirit? We have been too long the slaves of this tyrant. Our Saviour is soon to appear, bearing His cross; and His sacrifice is to restore fallen man to all his rights. Surely, we can never allow that precious Blood to fall uselessly on our souls, as the morning dew that rains on the parched sands of a desert! Let us with humble hearts confess that we are sinners, and, like the publican of the Gospel, who dared not so much as to raise up his eyes, let us acknowledge that it is only right that we should be forbidden, at least for a few weeks, those divine songs of joy, with which our guilty lips had become too familiar; and that we should interrupt those sentiments of presumptuous confidence which prevented our hearts from having the holy fear of God.

That indifference for the liturgy of the Church, which is the strongest indication of a weak faith, and which now reigns so universally in the world, is the reason why so many, even practical Catholics, can witness this yearly suspension of the Alleluia, without profiting by the lesson it conveys. A passing remark, or a chance thought, is the most they give to it, for they care for no other devotions but such as are private; the spirit of the Church, in her various seasons, is quite beneath their notice. If these lines should meet their eye, we would beg of them to reflect for a moment that the Church is their mother; that her authority is the highest on earth; that her wisdom enables her to know what is best for her children. Why, then, keep aloof from her spirit, as though there were some other to be found, that could better lead them to their God? Why be indifferent in this present instance? Why deem of no interest to piety this suspension of the Alleluia, which she, the Church, considers as one of the principal and most solemn incidents in her liturgical year? Perhaps we shall be doing them a service, by showing them how keenly this interruption of the word of heavenly joy was felt by the Christians of those ages, when faith was the grand ruling principle, not only with society at large, but with each individual.

The farewell to Alleluia, in the Middle Ages, varied in the different Churches. Here, it was an affectionate enthusiasm, speaking the beauty of the celestial word; there, it was a heart-felt regret at the departure of the much-loved companion of all their prayers.

We begin with two antiphons, which would seem to be of Roman origin. We find them in the Antiphonarium of Saint Cornelius of Compiègne, published by Dom Denys de Sainte Marthe. They are a farewell to Alleluia made by our Catholic forefathers in the ninth century; they express, too, the hope of its coming back, as soon as the Resurrection of Jesus shall have brightened up the firmament of the Church.

Ant. Angelus Domini bonus comitetur tecum, Alleluia, et bene disponat itineri tuo, ut iterum cum gaudio revertaris ad nos, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Ant. Alleluia, mane apud nos hodie, et crastina proficisceris, Alleluia; et dum ortus fuerit dies, ambulabis vias tuas, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Ant. May the good angel of the Lord accompany thee, Alleluia, and give thee a good journey, that thou mayst come back to us in joy, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Ant. Alleluia, abide with us to-day, and to-morrow thou shalt set forth, Alleluia; and when the day shall have risen, thou shalt proceed on thy way, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

The Gothic Church of Spain thus saluted the Alleluia, on the eve of its interruption. We merely make a selection from what is almost a complete Office.

Hymn

Alleluia piis edite laudibus,
Cives ætherei, psallite unanimiter
Alleluia perenne.

Hinc vos perpetui luminis accolæ,
Ad summum resonate hymniferis choris
Alleluia perenne.

Vos urbs eximia suscipiet Dei,
Quæ lætis resonans cantibus, excitat
Alleluia perenne.

Almum sideræ jam patriæ decus
Victores capite, quo canere possitis
Alleluia perenne.

Illic Regis honor vocibus inclytis
Jocundum reboat carmine perpetim
Alleluia perenne.

Hoc fessis requies, hoc cibus, hoc potus
Oblectans reduces, haustibus affluens
Alleluia perenne.

Te suavisonis Conditor affatim
Rerum carminibus, laudeque pangimus
Alleluia perenne.

Te Christe celebrat gloria vocibus
Nostris, omnipotens, ac tibi dicimus
Alleluia perenne: Alleluia perenne.

Amen.

Felici reditu gaudi a surnite,
Reddentes Domino gloriticum melos,
Alleluia perenne.
Citizens of heaven!
give forth Alleluia in your holy canticles;
sing with one voice your eternal Alleluia.

Inhabitants of light everlasting! make heaven resound,
as ye sing to the great God, in your hymning choirs,
the eternal Alleluia,

The glorious city of God will receive you,
the city which echoes with songs of joy,
and awakens the eternal Alleluia.

Ye have conquered; go, take the fair beauty of the starry land,
wherein ye may chant
the eternal Alleluia.

’Tis there the glory of the King is proclaimed
with sweetest voices singing ever their joyous,
their eternal Alleluia.

This is the rest to the wearied; this is the food and drink giving delight
to exiles reaching home; and this is their cup of overflowing nectar:
the eternal Alleluia.

We, too, O God, Creator of all things!
in sweetest hymns we praise thee, singing
our eternal Alleluia.

To thee, Jesus almighty! our voices give glory:
to thee we say:
Eternal Alleluia! Eternal Alleluia!

Amen.

Be glad on the day of its happy return;
and return to your Lord with your melody of glory,
the eternal Alleluia.

Capitulum

Alleluia in cœlo, et in terra: in cœlo perpetuatur, et in terra cantatur. Ibi sonat jugiter; hic fideliter. Illic perenniter, hic suaviter. Illic feliciter, hic concorditer: illic ineffabiliter, hic instanter. Illic sine syllabis: hic modulis. Illic ab angelis, hic a populis, quam Christo Domino nascente in laude et confessione nimis ejus, non solum in cœlo, sed et in terra cœlicolæcecinerunt: dum gloriam in excelsis Deo, et pacem in terra bonæ voluntatis hominibus nuntiaverunt. Quæsumus ergo, Domine, ut quorum ministeria nitimur imitari laudando, eorum mereamur consortium beatæ vitæ vivendo.
Alleluia is in heaven and on earth: it is eternal in heaven, and is even sung on earth. There, unceasingly; here, faithfully. There, everlastingly; here, sweetly. There, happily; here, concordantly. There, ineffably; here, heartily. There, it needs no syllables; here, it needs our melodies. There, it has angels for its chanters; here, it has men. When Christ our Lord was born, the heavenly host gave him exceeding praise and honour, singing Alleluia both in heaven and on earth, and proclaiming glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will. Therefore do we beseech thee, O Lord, that as we strive to imitate the angels in their ministry of praise, we may live in such manner as to deserve to be their companions in eternal life.

Anthem

Ibis, Alleluia. Prosperimi iter habebis Alleluia; et Herum cum gaudio revertaris ad nos, Alleluia. In manibus enim suis portabunt te; ne unquam offendas ad lapidem pedem tuum. Et Herum cum gaudio revertaris ad nos, Alleluia.
Thou shalt go, Alleluia; thy journey shall be prosperous, Alleluia; and again come back to us with joy, Alleluia. For they shall bear thee up in their hands, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And again come back to us with joy, Alleluia.

Benediction

Alleluia, nomen pium, atque jocundum, dilatetur ad laudem Dei in ora omnium populorum.
R. Amen.

Sit in vocibus credentium clara, quæ in angelorum ostenditur concentibus gloriosa.
R. Amen.

Et, quæ in æternis civibus sine sonorum strepitii enitet, in vestris cordibus effectu planiore fructificet.
R. Amen.

Angelus Domini bonus comitetur tecum, Alleluia; et omnia bona præparet itineri tuo. Et iterum cum gaudio revertaris ad nos. Alleluia.
May Alleluia, that sacred and joyful word, resound to God's praise from the lips of all people.
R. Amen.

May this word, which expresses glory as chanted by the choirs of angels, be sweet as Sung by the voices of believers.
R. Amen.

And may that which noiselessly gleams in the citizens of heaven, yield fruit in your hearts by ever growing love.
R. Amen.

May the Lord’s good angel go with thee, Alleluia; and prepare all good things for thy journey. And again come back to us with joy. Alleluia.

The Churches of Germany, in the Middle Ages, expressed their farewell to the Alleluia in the following fine sequence, which is to be found in all their missals up to the fifteenth century.

Sequence

 

Cantemus cuncti melodum nunc Alleluia.
In laudibus æterni regis, hæc plebs resultet Alleluia.
Hoc denique cœlestos chori cantent in altum Alleluia.
Hoc beatorum per prata Paradisiaca psallat concentus Alleluia.
Quin et astrorum micantia luminaria jubilent altum Alleluia.
Nubium cursus, ventorum volatus, fulgurum coruscatio et tonitruum sonitus, dulce consonent simul Alleluia.
Fluctus et undæ, imber et procellæ, tempestas et serenitas, cauma, gelu, nix, pruinæ, saltus, nemora, pangant Alleluia.
Hinc variæ volucres Creatorem laudibus concinite cum Alleluia.
Ast illic respondeant voces altæ diversarum bestiarum Alleluia.
Istinc montium celsi vertices sonent Alleluia.
Hinc vallium profunditates saltent Alleluia.
Tu quoque maris jubilans abysse, dic Alleluia.
Necnon terrarum molis immensitates: Alleluia.
Nunc omne genus humanum laudans exsultet Alleluia.
Et Creatori grates frequentans consonet Alleluia.
Hoc deniqua nomen audire jugiter delecfcatur Alleluia.
Hoc etiam carmen cœleste comprobat ipse Christus Alleluia.
Nunc vos socii cantate lætantes: Alleluia.
Et vos pueruli respóndete semper: Alleluia.
Nunc omnes canite simul, Alleluia Domino, Alleluia Christo, Pneumatique Alleluia.
Laus Trinitati æternæ. in baptismo Domini quæ clarificatur: hinc canamus Alleluia.
Let us all now sing the melodious Alleluia.
In praise of the eternal King, let this assembly give forth Alleluia.
And let the heavenly choirs loudly chant Alleluia.
Let the choir of the blessed sing in the land of paradise, Alleluia.
Nay, let the bright stars hymn one loud Alleluia.
Fleet clouds, swift winds, flashing lightning, and pealing thunder, let all unite in a sweet Alleluia.
Waves and billows, showers and storms, tempest and calm, heat, cold, snow, frost, woods and groves, let them tell their Alleluia.
And ye countless birds, sing the praises of your Maker with an Alleluia.
To which let the loud-voiced beasts respond another Alleluia.
Let the high mountain-tops ring with Alleluia.
And the deep valleys echo Alleluia.
Thou, too, deep jubilant sea, say Alleluia;
And thou, boundless earth, Alleluia!
Now let the whole race of men say its praiseful Alleluia,
And oft to its Creator give this canticle of thanks, Alleluia!
He loves to hear this word eternally repeated, Alleluia;
And Jesus too applauds the song, the heavenly Alleluia.
Do you, then, brethren, be glad, and sing: Alleluia!
And you, little children, never fail to respond: Alleluia!
Let all, then, sing together: Alleluia to the Lord; Alleluia to Christ; and to the Holy Ghost, Alleluia!
Praise be to the eternal Trinity, whose glory was declared at the baptism of our Lord! Sing we, then, Alleluia!

The Churches of France, in the thirteenth century, and long even after that, used to sing at Vespers of the Saturday before Septuagesima the following beautiful hymn:

Hymn

Alleluia dulce carmen, Vox perennis gaudii,
Alleluia laus suavis Est choris cœlestibus,
Quam canunt Dei manentes In domo per sæcula.

Alleluia læta mater Concivis Jerusalem:
Alleluia vox tuorum Civium gaudentium:
Exsules nos flere cogunt Babylonis flumina.

Alleluia non meremur In perenne psallere;
Alleluia vox reatus Cogit intermittere;
Tempus instat quo peracta Lugeamus crimina.

Unde laudando precamur Te beata Trinitas,
Ut tuum nobis videre Pascha des in æthere,
Quo tibi læti canamus Alleluia perpetim.

Amen.
The sweet Alleluia-song, the word of endless joy,
is the melody of heaven’s choir,
chanted by them that dwell for ever in the house of God.

O joyful mother, O Jerusalem our city,
Alleluia is the language of thy happy citizens.
The rivers of Babylon, where we poor exiles live, force us to weep.

We are unworthy to sing a ceaseless Alleluia.
Our sins bid us interrupt our Alleluia.
The time is at hand when it behoves us to bewail our crimes.

We, therefore, beseech thee whilst we praise thee, O blessed Trinity!
that thou grant us to come to that Easter of heaven,
where we shall sing to thee our joyful everlasting Alleluia.

Amen.

In the present form of the liturgy, the farewell to Alleluia is more simple. The Church, at the conclusion of to-day’s Vespers, repeats the mysterious word four times:

Benedicamus Domino, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Deo gratias, Alleluia, Alleluia
Let us bless the Lord, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia.

This song of heaven, then, is taken from us. It will return, when the triumph of Jesus’ Resurrection is proclaimed upon our earth.


 

[1] De divinis Officiis, lib. i., cap. xxxv.