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CHAPTER XV. At What Times of the Year Alleluia Is to Be Said

18 Feb. 19 June. 19 Oct.
From the holy Feast of Pascha until Pentecost, without interruption, let Alleluia be said both with the Psalms and the responsories. From Pentecost until the beginning of Lent it is to be said at the Night-Office with the six latter Psalms only. But on every Sunday out of Lent let the Canticles,* Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext and None be said with Alleluia: Vespers, however, with an antiphon. The responses are never to be said with Alleluia, except from Pascha to Pentecost.

Not Left to Random Personal Inspiration

Readers discovering the Rule of Saint Benedict for the first time are often surprised by the Holy Patriarch's careful attention to the minutest details of the Opus Dei (the Work of God or Divine Office). He goes so far as to devote a chapter of the Holy Rule to the times of the year during which Alleluia is said. The chant of the Alleluia is not left to random personal inspiration, lest it become an element of disorder in the sacred liturgy. The Alleluia is woven into the texture of the Office in such a manner that when it is said, the Alleluia creates a holy enchantment, and when it is not said, the very ethos of the Office is changed in such a way, that the soul longs for the return of the Alleluia, as for the return of a dearly loved friend at the sound of whose voice one experiences gladness.

A Heavenly Word

Among the holy words that grace the lips of man in prayer, there is perhaps none lovelier than Alleluia. It is a word that requires the development of melody. It calls for a soaring vocal jubilation. It contains within itself a cantus obscurior, the hidden and most secret form of verbal expression that the chant o the Church brings to life. Alleluia is a heavenly word, an echo and a foretaste of the liturgy described by Saint John in the Apocalypse:

After these things I heard as it were the voice of much people in heaven, saying: Alleluia. Salvation, and glory, and power is to our God. For true and just are his judgments, who hath judged the great harlot which corrupted the earth with her fornication, and hath revenged the blood of his servants, at her hands. And again they said: Alleluia. And her smoke ascendeth for ever and ever. And the four and twenty ancients, and the four living creatures fell down and adored God that sitteth upon the throne, saying: Amen; Alleluia. And a voice came out from the throne, saying: Give praise to our God, all ye his servants; and you that fear him, little and great.
And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunders, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord our God the Almighty hath reigned. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give glory to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath prepared herself. (Apocalypse 19:1-7)

Father Zundel

Father Maurice Zundel (1887-1975), a master at once of the interior life and of its most poetic expression, wrote the following incomparable page on the Alleluia:

The anonymous Englishman who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing puts the following question into the mouth of the disciple he is guiding to contemplation. "Now thou askest me and sayest : How shall I think on God, and what is He? Unto this I cannot answer Thee except to say I know not." This is the traditional teaching of all the great mystics. They do not know. Words seem to them a mockery, concepts a prison, the entire apparatus of speech the shadow of a shade.
We were obliged, it is true, to start from language, to push off from the beach with our oar, turning our back to the open sea. We were compelled to utter in words full of earthly associations the supreme secrets of the Divine Life. Faith, it is true, had infused into language a new life and had, by employing the marvellous resources of analogy, expanded without limit the perspectives it is capable of disclosing. But every comparison was finally compelled to deny itself. For no perfection is ever realised in its purity within the sphere of our present experience, and this freedom from all alloy is precisely the distinctive feature which must characterise God's perfections.
The Godhead in effect cannot be distinguished as one being among others or as a being at the head of other beings, in an ascending series of which it is the highest degree. It must be distinguished as the Being absolutely transcending not only each created being taken separately but their entire series. However far we carry the excellence of the creature it is always infinitely remote from God. To find God we must leave the series to which we are too inclined to imagine that He belongs and seeking, so to speak, to undefine rather than to define Him, realise that we begin to know Him truly in so far as we recognise that He is infinitely above every concept, as He is above every word, and that the name which fits Him better than any other is the Ineffable because it is content to call Him He that cannot be uttered. "Thou art a God ineffable, incomprehensible, invisible and beyond our grasp"; as it is finely expressed in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
From this point of view, few pages give such delight to the believer, Denys excepted, as the article in his Summa which St. Thomas devotes to the relation between the sixth beatitude and the gift of understanding, where he speaks of this vision, in which though we do not see what God is, at least we see what he is not, and adds that "the more perfectly we know God in this life, the more we understand that He exceeds whatever the intellect can understand". This denial, however, is the supreme affirmation of our understanding. For it is the refusal to limit the Infinite. And the heart has the wider field for its love, and feels itself free at last to attach itself fully without being made captive. Impatient now of the oars which beat the waves to the laborious rhythm of thought, it asks that the sail be hoisted and that it be permitted to follow freely the wind of the Spirit through God's incomprehensible transcendence, far from banishing Him to an inaccessible sublimity, assures us that His relations with the universe are infinitely gratuitous and that no other bond with His creatures is possible than His goodness which diffuses itself and His love which gives. What could He expect or receive who is the fullness of being? He truly gives what He gives. He gives even what He asks, He gives twice what He receives.
Therefore, inasmuch as the Ineffable Love is His Name, He that cannot be uttered cannot be subject to any necessity in His dealings with us. Our dependence upon Him gives us being; it does not enrich Him. If He makes us the object of His power, it is, therefore, always in order to make us the object of His love. In our regard He is all heart. He is a mother. And since we have no hold upon being except His will, always in action, to give it us, we are born every moment, of His love. The sublimest theology issues without denying itself, as it is deepened by the light of infused wisdom, in the tenderest filial charity.
No longer able to hold back its rapture, and having moreover climbed above the zone of words, the jubilant soul bursts into the ecstatic vocalisations of the Alleluia. "He who jubilates," St. Augustine explains, "utters no words, but a sound of joy without words: for it is the voice of the spirit lost in joy, expressing that joy to the utmost of its power but unable to define its meaning. And who is the fit object of this jubilation but the ineffable God? Ineffable indeed is He whom thou canst not name. But if thou canst not name Him, yet may not keep silence, what canst thou do but jubilate, that thy heart may rejoice without words, and the immensity of thy joy escape the constraint of syllables."
It would be impossible to express better the mystery of the Alleluia, its sublime aspiration to utter the ineffable by the ineffable. (The Splendour of the Liturgy)

The Meaning of the Alleluia

And after Father Zundel, Saint Augustine on the Alleluia:

Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now. So we praise God during our earthly life, and at the same time we make our petitions to him. Our praise is expressed with joy, our petitions with yearning. We have been promised something we do not yet possess, and because the promise was made by one who keeps his word, we trust him and are glad; but insofar as possession is delayed, we can only long and yearn for it. It is good for us to persevere in longing until we receive what was promised, and yearning is over; then praise alone will remain.
Because there are these two periods of time - the one that now is, beset with the trials and troubles of this life, and the other yet to come, a life of everlasting serenity and joy - we are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after. The season before Pascha signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the time after Pascha which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future. What we commemorate before Pascha is what we experience in this life; what we celebrate after Pascha points to something we do not yet possess. This is why we keep the first season with fasting and prayer; but now the fast is over and we devote the present season to praise. Such is the meaning of the Alleluia we sing.
Both these periods are represented and demonstrated for us in Christ our Head. The Lord's passion depicts for us our present life of trial - shows how we must suffer and be afflicted and finally die. The Lord's resurrection and glorification show us the life that will be given to us in the future.
Now therefore, brethren, we urge you to praise God. That is what we are all telling each other when we say Alleluia. You say to your neighbor, "Praise the Lord!" and he says the same to you. We are all urging one another to praise the Lord, and all thereby doing what each of us urges the other to do. But see that your praise comes from your whole being; in other words, see that you praise God not with your lips and voices alone, but with your minds, your lives and all your actions.
We are praising God now, assembled as we are here in church; but when we go on our various ways again, it seems as if we cease to praise God. But provided we do not cease to live a good life, we shall always be praising God. You cease to praise God only when you swerve from justice and from what is pleasing to God. If you never turn aside from the good life, your tongue may be silent but your actions will cry aloud, and God will perceive your intentions; for as our ears hear each other's voices, so do God's ears hear our thoughts. (Discourse on the Psalms, Psalm 148, 1-2: CCL 40, 2165-2166)


So beautiful!

I know "Hosanna" falls into the same category of those heavenly words, unfit for translation. I haven't found anything/anybody who would elaborate on it though.


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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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