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CNP Feedback - Allelu-Ya Don't Say

Q. Dear CNP:

I hate to trouble you with such trivialities, but I'm being accosted by the DRE at the parish. She wants me to play (of all things!) the Halleluiah Chorus at the end of one of her talks after Stations of the Cross during Lent because she's making reference to the Resurrection. I told her that I would not because:

  1. Halleluiah Chorus is Ascension not Easter; and
  2. I would not play something that overtly refers to the word "Alleluia," which is suppressed during Lent.

It's a done deal. It's not happening.

However, she argued that the Alleluia was only suppressed during liturgies (Mass, Hours) not as a general practice and that I was being officious and impertinent by refusing to use it as she requested. She pointed out (accurately) that I do not make my choir use a different word at rehearsals during Lent.

I see this as very different — obviously, I typed the word to you just now, and I've said and sung it in rehearsals, but I see this as different than using the word in the context of worship, even a devotion like Stations of the Cross.

What does the Church officially say about this topic? I did a search on the internet, but all I found were opinions, not quotations from documents or other authorities. I turn to you since I expect you probably already know the answer and have answered this question before.


A. Dear Al:

You're correct — stand your ground.

This all boils down to common sense — and it's very hard to debate with someone who lacks it. I know priests in that category — many ordained in the 1970s, when liturgical common sense was a rarity!

The Church publishes rubrics for liturgical services (Mass, Penance, Confirmation, Baptism, Divine Office) and some closely guarded devotions, like Benediction.

There is much less written on "Popular Piety" and the devotions that fit into that broad category, like the Way of the Cross (a.k.a Stations, Via Crucis, Via Dolorosa). You will not find official rubrics for the celebration of Stations — nor for Novenas, etc. Even though it's not overtly specified, common sense alone tells us to wear purple during Lenten Stations — I don't think anyone would argue with that. And, yes of course, red on Good Friday.

The word "Alleluia" is not used by the Church during the season of Lent — that's more than obvious in the specific rubrics of the Mass and Office. The desire is for a certain linguistic "fast," so Lent may retain its penitential mood and Eastertide may resound with jubilant rejoicing. That's the common sense behind the rubric.

It is obvious to everyone without a particular agenda that the word is simply not used during Lent, whether the rubrics specifically detail every possible opportunity for use or not. Why would your DRE think that one can sing "Alleluia" up and down popular devotions in Lent when the word is forbidden at Mass? And why would one be focusing on the Resurrection (with the accompanying boisterous festivity) during a penitential season like Lent? I'll bet she doesn't like purple, either!

It's bad enough that so many publishers insist on a "Fifteen Station" format for the Way of the Cross, the last station being the Resurrection. They simply don't understand what the Via Dolorosa is about — it really and truly is a Lenten devotion, based on the Passion of Christ. For the same reason we don't sing "Silent Night" during Advent, we shouldn't be singing "Alleluia" or programming grand Resurrection scenes during Lent.

So, in the end, we're not going to find a rubric that says, "Do not sing 'Alleluia' during Stations." That's way too specific. We do need to recognize that we can "extrapolate" rubrics that do exist, always basing this on common sense.

The mention of singing "Alleluia" in choir practice points up how common sense is absent from the DRE's thinking. The Church forbids the public use of "Alleluia" during Lent (and the first 2/3 of the Triduum), and we can extend that to public use during devotions. We might even say it would be out of place to wear an Alleluia pin or T-shirt as a priest or Catholic layman during Lent. However, choirs must practice for Easter ... and this must be done during Lent. No rubrics, laws or regulations of the Church ever push the faithful beyond what is humanly possible. For example, a diabetic may certainly be excused from a rigorous fast on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday. A priest who physically cannot genuflect (bad knees, bad back, etc) may certainly modify that rubric to a bow. We need to retain common sense. A choir can privately practice music with "Alleluias" during Lent. I tell my singers that they have a "choral exemption" to sing Alleluia during practice — which tickles the children. Exemptions, unlike rubrics, do not extrapolate. Just because one's elderly pastor cannot genuflect doesn't mean you, a healthy 30-year-old, can claim that exemption. Just because your diabetic friend can eat "in-between" on Ash Wednesday, doesn't mean you can. We must be reasonable. Further, choir practices are private affairs, not done for public consumption. If for some reason the DRE feels the need to scream "Alleluia" in her bedroom — let her go for it! Just don't insist that others join in.

In your point about Messiah — I'd be careful about assigning too much specificity to the movements. That oratorio, apart from a few Christmas recitatives, is not really "narrative." It's more reflective — sort of like the Greek chorus that comments on the "action" — only the action's not there with Handel. I don't know that the "Hallelujah Chorus" can be pinpointed to the Ascension.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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