This morning, as John was reading the office of Lauds from the four volume set of The Liturgy of the Hours, I was taken aback. The opening hymn was "Praise my soul the King of Heaven" - a fine bit of hymnody, to be sure, but not one I would use during Lent. We don't do 'alleluia' during Lent. It just isn't done! I even get a bit queasy typing it in here, and during choir rehearsals I am also restless and uneasy rehearsing the Easter hymns and responses.....
Did something change while I wasn't looking, such that the old customs were no longer in force? Or was it that today is St Patrick's day, and maybe an exception?
Sometimes, while John is reading from the book, I will follow along on my Palm using the Universalis program. (I actually prefer the British translations!). Universalis does not prescribe the hymns, saying only that "a suitable hymn may be inserted at this point." So I still don't know. IS there an exception to the 'no alleluia during Lent" rule?
It did get me to thinking about lenten customs. And of course, I went surfing the Internet for more information. Lenten Customs, from an Anglican source describes much of what I practiced as an Anglican child. We didn't actually physically practice Burying the Alleluia, but we did many of the others. I am fairly sure that we practiced our Easter hymns well before Ash Wednesday, and we focused on the Holy Week liturgies after Lent began. It did help, a lot, that our hymnbook was hardbound and well-established, and so there were not a lot of 'new' things to learn. Year to year, we chose from among the same group of hymns and songs. Mayhap there would be some new music for the acclamations, or perhaps a choir anthem, but the majority of what we did was pretty much the same year to year. And this helped the congregation to participate, and hence be a congregation not an audience.
Digging deeper, I found that there were other traditions that I was only dimly aware of.
The fourth Sunday of Lent (tomorrow from when I am typing this) is traditionally 'mothering sunday' and is marked (as are so many other days) by a special food. Simnel cake, a baked and boiled cross between Christmas pudding and steak and kidney pie!
What I think I remember most from childhood are the foods of Lent. We began with pancakes on Shrove Tuesday to Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday, to all the sweets on Easter Sunday itself. Strange, isn't it? For what is generally a fasting and penitential season?
I think that it may be that we are most tempted by various items when we have voluntarily given them up. For example, my family has for years given up meat for Lent, with exceptions for Sundays and St. Patrick's day. Much of the year, I don't think about meat. I'm not particularly bothered by the smell of the local steakhouses venting their animal sacrifices into the air as I drive past. Even on Fridays during the rest of the year, I don't particularly pay attention. But starting on Ash Wednesday, I am taunted and tempted even driving past McDonald's. "Meat", it calls to me. "Come and eat", it whispers in my ears.
Now, the temptation to eat meat may not seem to be a very large or important one as compared to, say, the temptations to the seven capitol sins - vainglory (pride), avarice, gluttony, lust, sloth, envy, anger. (It could be considered a variation on gluttony, I suppose). No, rather I think that the enemy of us all grabs us wherever he can find a weak point, and food is one of mine. (Now where is that quote on the difference between fasting and eating????) I mean, God gave us food, and lots of choices in eating, and He gave us taste buds to appreciate it. No less a personage than G.K.Chesterton was reputed to say "the Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar". And even if he didn't actually say that, it is still true that God gave us things to enjoy but not to abuse.
Fasting and abstinence are ways of giving up the good that God has given us, so that we can appreciate it all the more. And so too the alleluia in Lent. After the weeks of restraining ourselves from this beautiful word, this heavenly sentiment, we can burst out in song and praise on Easter, celebrating the resurrection with the glorious hymnody that repeats that word over and over and over again.