Saturday, January 31, 2015

Burying the Alleluia

Today is the fourth Sunday after Epiphany (you were that right), which means tonight the Alleluia is sung for the last time until Mass on Holy Saturday. A double alleluia is affixed to the dismissal at Vespers as a farewell until the same words revive after the Vesperal Mass in seventy days. In typical Roman fashion, this is a somber and "low key" way of doing something very great in importance, preparing for the great fast and Lent. The Byzantine churches will have meatfare and cheesefare Sunday in the coming weeks, wherein the faithful slowly say adios to meat and dairy products, although fish cooked in oil is allowed typically on Palm Sunday (a feast rather than a penitential day in the Greek rite). 

A Melkite priest once pointed out the oddity of allowing the universally exercised option to sing "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ" during the new Roman Mass in Lent. The old Office substituted Laus tibi, Domine, etc for Alleluia after the Deus in adiutorium, but the Mass always utilized a tract based on the psalms instead. As the Alleluia prefaced the Gospel throughout the year, its absence startles the faithful when the words of Christ are sung. The option "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ" is especially odd because Alleluia is Hebrew for "Praise to you, O God." Clearly, the Consilium was influenced by the Department of Redundancy Department's findings! Bishop John of Syracuse wrote Pope St. Gregory the Great once to complain of the novelty of "singing the Alleluia outside of Paschaltide" after the manner of the "Greeks." Gregory retorted that the Roman Church had adopted the practice some time ago, but its exclusion during Lent remained.

Antiphon from psalm 140 at the Vespers part of the pre-Sanctified Liturgy.
The melody is an English translation of the Ukrainian-Slavonic tune.

By contrast, the Byzantine churches will not cease the Alleluia, but will continue to sing it throughout Great Lent, even on Good Friday. Indeed, the Great Doxology will continue to be sung between Orthros and the Divine Liturgy (of which the Roman Gloria is merely an excerpt). The Byzantine rite's excessive and eccentric praxis knows no bounds during the Great Lent. The changes to the liturgy, aside from the longer anaphora of St. Basil the Great and some changes to a few prayers, are really more additions. The Akathist to the Mother of God is sung on Fridays in preparation for the Annunciation on March 25th, something I continue to do. Unlike the Roman rite, which has a unique Mass for every day of Lent, the Byzantine rite never celebrates the Divine Liturgy outside of Sundays and feasts, but sees Communion as necessary to endure the Fast, so the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy "of St. Gregory" is celebrated. Some days will witness a long penitential service called the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, with its many prostrations and kisses of the ground. 

After the high of Christmastide, let us prepare to lower and humiliate ourselves during the Fast and accept the wisdom of the Church in our preparation.


  1. Fourth Sunday after Epiphany and burial of "A" word (I shan't speak or write the word of joy) here in CTO land. I'm ready for the Redemptive Cycle.

  2. Fourth Sunday after Epiphany and burial of "A" word (I shan't speak or write the word of joy) here in CTO land. I'm ready for the Redemptive Cycle.

  3. The Byzantine rite during Great Lent really does sound amazing. And yet, while a part of me would like to participate in it, as the years go by I have slowly come to appreciate our own sober Lenten tradition.

  4. There is the idea that the Roman Lenten practice is a mystical portrayal of the slowly dying mystical Body of Christ: the alleluia goes away, food goes away, the Gloria goes away, more things disappear during Passiontide, the bells cease on Maundy Thursday, light fades with the extinguishing of the candles on Tenebrae, and finally the Mass itself ceases on Good Friday. All these things return, of course, during the Paschal Vigil.

    The question is: are these merely pious ramblings, or is this a conscious (i.e. the sensus fidelium in action) liturgical action taking place? Or perhaps both.