Alleluia’s farewell in the Mozarabic Rite

Piombo - Discesa di Cristo al Limbo
Discesa di Cristo al Limbo | Sebastiano del Piombo | 1516

The practice of ‘burying’ the alleluia on the eve of Septuagesima is presently enjoying a revival. This ‘burial’ is carried out by writing the word alleluia on a parchment, and inhuming or immuring that parchment after the first vespers of Septuagesima Sunday. Such is the typical form of the custom of paraliturgically enriching the expression of the dismissal or suspension of the alleluia in the Roman Rite, as we see today, called depositio alleluia in Latin sources. Associated with this custom is the mediaeval hymn Alleluia dulce carmen amongst the French, here in Gregorian chant (here sung in full), and here in the tune more commonly sung with it (here sung in English during an actual alleluia burial).


In the Mozarabic Rite, however, the suspension of the alleluia is more intimately expressed in the liturgy itself. Owing to the largely successful Muslim conquest of Iberia, which isolated the Visigothic Rite from the rest of Christendom, the Mozarabic Rite did not develop Forelent. Hence, in the Mozarabic Rite, the suspension of the alleluia does not happen until after the First Sunday of Lent. In fact, the Mozarabic deposition of the alleluia, with its numerous alleluias interspersed throughout the liturgy, transforms the Office and the Mass of the first Sunday of Lent, called Dominica in carnes tollendas (the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday is called Dominica ante carnes tollendas) in the oldest Mozarabic liturgical book, into a jubilant celebration, such that the penitential character of Lent only surfaces robust the following Monday.

Degrain - La conversión de Recaredo
La conversión de Recaredo | Antonio Muñoz Degrain | 1888

The suppression of the alleluia during Lent in the Iberian peninsula was stipulated by canon 11 of the Fourth Council of Toledo, celebrated in 633, forty-four years after the Third Council, which formalised Reccared’s abjuration of the Arian heresy, made in 587 (obtained through the intercession of his elder brother, Saint Hermenegild, martyred in 585). Lent, declares the Fourth Council, is a time not of joy but of sorrow, that it is then fitting to persist in weeping and fasting, to cloak the body in hairshirt and ash, to cast the mind unto sorrows, to turn joy into sadness, until the time of the Resurrection of Christ, when it would behove Christendom to sing alleluia in gladness and replace grief with joy.

Jiménez Aranda - Penitentes en la basílica inferior de Asís
Penitentes en la Basílica Inferior de Asís | José Jiménez Aranda | 1874

Depositio alleluiaWhere the alleluia is mentioned in the course of the Divine Office on the first Sunday of Lent (click the thumbnail to open the full Office in Latin copied from the Mozarabic Breviary, whose 1775 edition was published as the Breviarium Gothicum by then archbishop of Toledo, Francisco Antonio Lorenzana y Bultrón), it is addressed as though it were a person. First vespers is often inscribed simply as ad vesperos, whereas second vespers is marked only as exeunte vespera. (Read this for more details on the Mozarabic Rite.) At first vespers, in the second laud, the alleluia is addressed as a wayfarer going out on a journey in joy and gladness, whose return the mountains and hills shall await with glory (which, applying an alternative reading of exspectantes te cum gloria, can also be read as Gloria, taking into account that the Gloria is sung on the same day the alleluia returns).

Durer - Adoration of the Trinity
Allerheiligenbild | Albrecht Dürer | 1511

The ensuing hymn establishes the perpetuity of the alleluia in heaven, underscoring the hope of its gladsome return, and the security that the Church never ceases to sing alleluia throughout the year (for the cives ætherei, the heavenly citizens, the Church triumphant, continue to sing it). Reinforcing this, the chaplet then contrasts the eternal singing of the alleluia in heaven against its time-bound singing on earth, finally beseeching the Lord to look upon the attention the faithful exercise in emulating the ministry of the angels, who sang alleluia on the birth of the Redeemer not only in heaven but also on earth, in their work of praising, that they may merit to live the blessed life with them as companions in heaven.

This the post-Pater benediction reiterates, affirming that the alleluia is God’s praise, which on that first Sunday of Lent initiates the faithful in that very praise, in the hope of reckoning them as fellow inhabitants in the everlasting mansions. In the third and final laud, the faithful finally bid the alleluia farewell, certain that it will return to them, that the angels will carry it in their very arms lest it dash its feet upon a stone.


Sorokin - Crucifixion
Распятие | Евграф Семенович Сорокин | 1873

We claim neither right nor privilege nor precedence to celebrate the Mozarabic Rite. But this should not hinder us from accessing and treasuring the lessons we can learn from its richness and antiquity. Let us harness these teaching moments to elaborate our preparation for Lent. We have half of Lent, our twenty days of Forelent (Sundays excluding), to prepare for Lent itself. Let us look at the glory of the Resurrection, and ready our mind and body, our soul and flesh, to intensify those rigours that shall certainly redouble our joy and mirth come Easter Sunday.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.