06 March 2006

Lack of the A-word

Alleluia, that is. I was just reading a post over at Summa Contra Mundum in which Athanasius wondered why us Roman-types don't sing Alleluia's during Lent, in contrast to our Eastern brethren, who wouldn't dream of not singing Alleluia, since God is always good, and even a time of fasting and repentance is a joyful time.

I took this opportunity to show off what I know about the history of the chant before the Gospel (which is the Alleluia in all times but Lent). The following is what I posted in the comments there:

In terms of the chant we sing before the Gospel (the most prominent appearance of "Alleluia" in the Roman liturgy), it isn't a matter of the Alleluia being omitted during Lent, though many people think of it that way. Historically (as in, 7th Century) there was a Tract (long, melismatic, multi-verse chant with mostly psalm verses as the text) before the Gospel. Eventually, the Tract was replaced by the Alleluia on Easter Sunday, then for the whole Easter season, and then all the time...except for Lent, which retained the Tract. The Tracts we sing in Lent are some of the oldest chants in the Gregorian repertoire, along with the chants for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.

I don't know why the Alleluia never made it into Lent. Perhaps the reason generally given, that Lent is a time of solemnity and penitence, is the reason. At any rate, not singing the Alleluia during Lent is one of our oldest remaining liturgical practices, so please don't knock it: we Romans need to cling hard and fast to the few ancient traditions we have left!

We'll be happy to join you in many choruses of "Alleluia" on Easter, since from Easter until Pentecost, all 5 of the Proper chants for every Sunday contain the word "Alleluia" (decidedly not the norm for the rest of the year).

If anyone has any more information on the subject, I'd welcome it.

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