Saturday, February 12, 2022

The Dismissal of the Alleluia

This evening, the eve of Septuagesima, the Roman Rite begins its preparation for Lent by laying the “Alleluia” aside until the vigil of Easter. In the Breviary of St Pius V, which derives from the later medieval customs of the Papal court, this is done with characteristic simplicity; “alleluia” is added twice to the “Benedicamus Domino” and “Deo gratias” at the end of Vespers, and then dropped. Many medieval Uses did this more elaborately, adding “alleluia” to all the antiphons, or replacing with one or more of the Paschal antiphons that consist of solely the word “alleluia.” As we have written about many times, it was a common custom to make a parchment or plaque with the word “Alleluia” written on it, and at the end of Vespers, carry it in procession out of the church and bury it in the churchyard or cemetery, to be dug up and brought back on the evening of Holy Saturday or Easter morning. Of course, since this custom is not a formal part of the liturgy, it could be done in various ways.
The Alleluia processed to a side altar of the Oratory of Ss Gregory and Augustine in St Louis, Missouri, where it was “buried” under the altar-cloth. Photo by Kiera Petrick, from a photopost of last year
The following hymn about the dismissal of the Alleluja, which was written in the 10th century, appears in a fair number of medieval manuscripts, but it was not, apparently, widely used as a formal part of the liturgy. I imagine it must have been used rather to accompany the procession. (If anyone has any more detailed information about its liturgical use or lack thereof, please be so kind as to leave a comment. The English version is by the Anglican cleric John Mason Neale, one of the great translators of hymns who did such valuable work in the 19th century.)
Alleluia, dulce carmen
Vox perennis gaudii
Alleluia, laus suavis
Est choris caelestibus,
Quod canunt Dei manentes
In domo per saecula.
O Alleluia, song of gladness,
Voice of joy that cannot die;
Alleluia is the anthem
ever dear to choirs on high;
In the house of God abiding
thus they sing eternally.
Alleluia, laeta mater
Cóncinis, Jerúsalem,
Allelúia, vox tuórum
Civium gaudentium:
Exsules nos flere cogunt
Babylónis flúmina.
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, non merémur
Nunc perenne psállere,
Allelúia nos reátus
Cogit interímere;
Tempus instat quo peracta
Lugeámus crímina.
Alleluia we deserve not
here to chant forevermore;
Alleluia our transgressions
make us for a while give o’er;
For the holy time is coming
bidding us our sins deplore.
Unde laudando precámur
Te, beáta Trínitas,
Ut tuum nobis vidére
Pascha des in æthere
Quo tibi læte canámus
Allelúia pérpetim. Amen.
Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee,
grant us, blessèd Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine
Easter in our home beyond the sky;
There to Thee forever singing
Allelúia joyfully. Amen.

The reference to the rivers of Babylon is of course taken from the seventy years exile of the Israelites after the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 587 B.C. The Byzantine Rite contains a similar reference in the Sundays of the Triodion, its equivalent of the Roman Forelent. On the higher feasts and many Sundays, Psalms 134 and 135 are sung together as the “Polyeleos - the Great Mercy”, since the first is sung with the refrain “Alleluia”, and the second with the refrain “Alleluia, alleluia, for His mercy endureth forever, alleluja.” On the three Sundays before Lent, Psalm 136, “By the rivers of Babylon”, is added to the group. The following is a recording of the All-Night Vigil at the Sretensky Monastery last year on the last Sunday before Lent, the Polyeleos begins at 1:27:35, with Psalms 134 and 135 reduced to just a few verses; Psalm 136 begins at 1:30:10.

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