Alleluia ! Exultate! Jubilate!
- Every day in the Divine Office and the Mass the Church exclaims Alleluia 125 times at least... Now how many times you daily exclaim 'Alleluia!' only you will be able to answer...
- Alleluia is a Hebrew word that signifies ‘Praise God’ but which expresses at the same time a movement or a transport of joy, which it was thought could not be expressed by any word in Greek or Latin; thus it was conserved in its original language.
- In all times we must praise God; and even when the Church stops singing Alleluia, from Septuagesima until Holy Saturday, She sings Laus tibi Domine, rex aeternae gloriae: Praise be to Thee, O Lord, king of eternal glory; this expression contains the principal sense of the word Alleluia but without the effusion or the transport of joy that the Alleluia inspires.
- That transport of joy will never cease in heaven, but it is often interrupted in this life.
Tobias, wanting to mark the joy of the last beautiful times of the Church or of the New Jerusalem, said that on all sides could be heard the Alleluia.
“All its streets shall be paved with white and clean stones: and Alleluia shall be sung in its streets.” (Tobit XIII:22)
Saint John in the Apocalypse tells us that Alleluia is the chant of heaven.
“After these things, I heard as it were the voices of much people in heaven saying: Alleluia ...and again they said; Alleluia.
And the four and twenty ancients and the four living creatures fell down and adored God that sitteth upon the throne, saying: Amen. Alleluia.” (Apoc. XIX 1,3,4)
- It is because of this that it is the chant of the greatest solemnities of the Church at which times we strive to anticipate and participate in the joy of heaven.
- The Jews recited a psalm with the Alleluia, when they renewed every year the memorial of the eating of the Passover lamb, which was immolated at Jerusalem when they had the Temple. The Christians could well have taken from this the usage of saying the Alleluia during the Easter season, and on all Sundays destined to renew the memorial of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, our true Passover. And as the Alleluia Verse is preceded and followed by an Alleluia, we could well have imitated the Israelites, who in their assemblies often sung psalms, which began and ended with an Alleluia.
- This custom of the Church to sing the Alleluia is praised by St Augustine in several places in his Commentary on the Psalms, as a practise of the greatest antiquity. “We do not say the Alleluia before Easter, because the time of the passion of Jesus Christ marks the time of the afflictions of this life; and the resurrection designates the beatitude that we will enjoy one day. It is in that blessed life that one will praise God without end; but to praise Him eternally, you must begin to praise Him in this world. That is why we sing several times: “Alleluia, ... praise God,” by exciting ourselves and one another to praise God; but make sure that all in you praises Him, your tongue, your voice, your conscience, your life and your actions.”
We should note here that the first Alleluia in the Alleluia Verse has always been seen as an exhortation to praise God; and the second, as an exclamation full of joy, or a transport of joy of all the people, who animate themselves to praise God.
On this point there have been joined to the Alleluia a great number of notes of plain-chant which are called neume or jubilation, which gives to each the facility of joining his voice, and of overtly expressing the joy which he feels in these solemnities.
Neuma or pneuma (as in pneumatic drill) is the Greek work meaning breath, respiration the carrying of the voice; and when the voice is supported to express sentiments of joy it is called by the Latin's jubilatio: Because ‘jubilation, says St Augustine, is nothing other than the voice without words. Those who rejoice in the fields while gathering in an abundant vintage or a great harvest, sing and often leave the words and produce only the sounds.’
- The assemblies of Jews and Christians often sends out from itself, in regard to God, this kind of jubilation, so as to make heard what can only be beyond words and cannot be expressed by words. It is ineffable language ‘and to Whom can one more properly address such a language than to God, who is ineffable? (cannot be expressed in words; unspeakable, unutterable, inexpressible.) He must be praised: we cannot remain silent; we do not have the words; what else remains for us to do than to let ourselves go in jubilation, so that the heart rejoices without words, and the extent of charity is not restrained by syllables?’
- The Roman Order teaches us that this jubilation or the repeated notes on the last ‘a’ of the Alleluia are called sequentia, which means the follow-on from the Alleluia; this is the name that the Customs of Cluny give them in the 10th century. Amalaire, Etienne d’Autun and the abbot Rupert say that this jubilation without words reminds us of the state of the blessed in heaven, where we will have no need of words, but where the thought alone will have us know what is in the mind. This cry of joy could not be better placed than at the moment when one is preparing to hear the Gospel.
- Let us remark that, because of the length of the jubilation or sequence that followed the last ‘a’ of the Alleluia, by the 9th century words were often fitted into the notes. They were a few sparse words that held the jubilation together. These words developed into what we call today the Sequence. It was a great continuation of the jubilation and put into words: there are only 5 that remain in the Roman Church. Easter’s Victimae Paschali, Pentecost’s Veni Sancte, Corpus Christi’s Lauda Sion, Our Lady of Sorrows’ Stabat Mater and the Dies irae of the Requiem.
- [Now this last, the Dies irae, was composed only in 1569 and as you will note there is no Alleluia in the Requiem Mass - the origin of the sequence. In 1576, only 7 years after its composition, the Dominicans of Salamanca in Spain printed in their Missal that it should not be used because it was against the rubrics (because there was no Alleluia in the Mass of the Dead and therefore no continuation of the ‘a’ in Jubilation). But by then the reason for the sequences was lost from sight and the sequence was understood as a note of solemnity which nobody wanted to take away from it. But probably it is for this reason that the Missal no longer prescribes that the Dies Irae must be said in the Daily Low Mass of Requiem; leaving it optional.]