Monachus et Ierosolymita (XV)

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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

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 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. Listen to Saint Augustine:

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.

Benedictine life is just this: training for the life of heaven. Alleluia is a heavenly word. Just as grace is the seed of glory, so too is the Divine Office, celebrated in this valley of tears, the seed of what, in heaven, shall blossom into the perfect and ceaseless liturgy served by the angelic choirs and all the blessed before the throne of God and of the Lamb. Listen to Saint Augustine:

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.

Yearning for heaven characterises Saint Benedict and his sons. Thus does our patriarch say in Chapter IV of the Holy Rule that the monk is to “to desire with a special longing everlasting life.” With reference to the heavenly Jerusalem, Saint Bernard says that to be a monk is to be a citizen of Jerusalem: monachus et Ierosolymita. There is in Dom Jean Leclercq’s monastic classic, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, a chapter entitled “Devotion to Heaven.” Dom Leclercq has this to say on the subject:

The monastery is then a Jerusalem in anticipation, a place of waiting and of desire, of preparation for that holy city towards which we look with joy. His biographer wrote of a disciple of Saint Bernard, the Blessed David of Himmerod, who was always smiling: “He had, like the Saints, a face shining with joy; he had the face of one going toward Jerusalem.”

Saint Augustine explains the meaning of the alleluia that so colours the Divine Office, according to the rhythm of the liturgical year and the indications given by Saint Benedict in this chapter. Saint Augustine says:

We are given two liturgical seasons, one before Pascha 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.

The same two periods—the first corresponding to Our Lord’s humiliation (exinanitio), and the second to His glorification are reflected in the very construction of the Holy Rule. Chapters V, VI, and VII present the monk’s participation in the Passion of Christ; Chapters VIII through XX present his participation in the heavenly life of the risen and ascended Christ, who exercises His priesthood of glory before the Father in the heavenly sanctuary beyond the veil.

How does this relate to our particular dedication to adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar? The Sacred Host that we contemplate, and adore, and praise veils the whole mystery of the Christus Passus, the suffering Christ who, from the altar of the Cross, makes Himself over as “a pure victim, a holy victim, a spotless victim” to the Father. The naked Host lying upon the corporal—utterly fragile, poor, and vulnerable—is the image of the life of suffering and affliction by which a man participates by patience in the victimhood of Christ. The same Host lifted up and placed in the precious monstrance is the image of the life of heaven, where the risen and ascended Christ fills the heavenly sanctuary with the radiance of His glory.

The life of suffering and affliction that each of us must experience in one way or another in this valley of tears is already brightened by the chant of the Alleluia. Life in the cloister is not swanning about amidst wafts of incense and strains of Gregorian chant; it is a workshop, a battlefield, an anvil,  a mortar and pestle. Monastic life is not a hobby; it is not for dilettantes. Abba Longinus said to Abba Acacias: “Give blood and receive the Spirit.” One comes to the cloister to labour at whatever obedience enjoins; to wage war on one’s sinful thoughts and vices; to be hammered, like metal on the anvil, into a new shape; to be ground into a medicinal powder useful to the Divine Physician. In the midst of all of this, the Alleluia is a breath of hope, a cry of joy, a heavenly sound. The Alleluia, says D. Aemiliana Löhr, rises slowly from the tomb, “with the Blood of Christ on its wings.” Saint Augustine says:

Now therefore, brethren, we urge you to praise God. That is what we are all telling each other when we say Alleluia. . . . 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. (Discourse on the Psalms, Psalm 148, 1-2: CCL 40, 2165-2166)

What Saint Augustine says here concerning ceaseless praise is the paradigm for our life of perpetual adoration. Adoration provides the breath by which our Alleluia is carried aloft into heaven. We do not cease to adore when we leave the Oratory; all our life is adoration because at every moment it is given us “to participate by patience in the Passion of Christ” (Prologue). The Alleluia that rises from our choir and from our hearts is the expression of this, for the praise that finds its voice in the Alleluia is most beautiful when it rises out of the silence of adoration.

 

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