September 12, 2023

From the Rector…

To Alleluia or not to Alleluia? That is the question I am often asked regarding liturgy. I am sure there are a dozen answers as to why or why not an Alleluia is said or not said at the Fraction also known as The Breaking of the Bread (BCP, p. 364) and at the Dismissal (BCP, p.366). Depending on who a priest’s liturgics (worship) teacher was in seminary may well play a role in understanding the use of alleluia. The long and short of it is that alleluias are a must in the Easter season and a no-no in Lent. The rest of the year seems to be a little fuzzier.

I love liturgy, most especially the rubrics. Rubrics are those italicized sentences in smaller font found throughout the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). They are directions for liturgy and can either prescribe or suggest certain things about the liturgy either by what is explicitly written in the rubric and/or what is omitted. The rubrics regarding the Fraction are both prescribed and suggested. The rubrics concerning the Dismissal are suggestion only. By suggestion, I mean that the rubric gives you an option. Typically, that option is signified by use of the word “may”. 

The Fraction rubric is found on p. 364 of the BCP. Two things you might immediately notice: 1) The Alleluias are in parenthesis; and 2) The prescription for Alleluia is to not use it in Lent, to not omit it in Easter, and then to choose whether or not to use it during the rest of the seasonal church year. “In Lent, Alleluia is omitted, and may be omitted at other times except during Easter Season.” The rubric is both prescriptive—prescribing when it must and must not be used—and suggestive.

The Dismissal rubric is found on p. 366 of the BCP. It is a little murkier. The liturgical dismissal itself is written in prescriptive language which would seem to require the Deacon, or the Celebrant, and the people to use all four options listed. However, the unwritten tradition of the church suggests that only one be chosen each week. None of the choices includes the language of “Alleluia”. This would seem to prescribe that “Alleluia” is not used in standard worship. The rubric that allows for the use of “Alleluia” is suggestive, “From the Easter Vigil through the Day of Pentecost “Alleluia, alleluia” may be added to any of the dismissals.” The helpful part of this rubric is that it designates that each is considered an independent dismissal. The murkiness lies in who and when those “Alleluia, alleluias” are added. Do we say them before, after, to both the versicle and the response? The last line on the page only causes more confusion, “The People respond, ‘Thanks be to God, Alleluia, alleluia.’” This line seems extra rubrical. It could mean that the people always respond that way regardless of the season or whether or not the Celebrant or Deacon utilized the double ‘alleluia’ formula. The suggestive nature causes some questions as to usage.

For me, I think the authors of the 1978 BCP, meant for the alleluia formula to be utilized only in the Great Fifty Days of Easter as a way of marking this one singular period of time off from all others in the seasonal calendar. I rarely utilize the alleluia formula outside of the Great Fifty Days. I also think that both the Fraction and the Dismissal are inextricably tied to one another and so use of one in one place prescribes the use of the other with the opposite holding true as well.

The Fraction is that moment when we become intensely aware of Christ’s body being broken open for all of us to receive. In Easter we celebrate that moment, joyously offering our praise with alleluias. Outside of the Easter season, that celebration is tempered in reverence. That reverence is extreme Lent and, to a certain extent, Advent. Throughout the rest of the church year, the writers of our liturgy seem to favor this more reverent stance. 

The Dismissal is the moment in which the worship is “broken open” and poured out for all the world to receive. Again, in the Easter season, the Prayer Book writers seem to suggest that as a more celebratory season, our missional focus is more joyous and throughout the rest of the year, that focus is more reverent.

 The Fraction and the Dismissal are both opportunities of Christ brokenness in order for others to receive. Our use of alleluia is not meant to make us feel good or bad about ourselves or our worship, it is a reminder of the emotive stance we take toward Christ, the church, and the world. It is how we ebb and flow through a seasonal calendar designed to deepen our spirit into God’s Spirit. It is the recognition that all of life is not joyous nor is it all reverent.

In response to the question as to whether or not I say Alleluia—I would ask how did it make you feel? Because worship is designed to encourage our love of God and growth therein. Noticing the differences in liturgy are ways of deepening that growth. Alleluia!! 

Light and Life,