Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Resisting the Alleluia creep

There’s a story that sometime around 1980 a Pentecostal Christian attended an Episcopal Church with her friend from work.  During the sermon, the visitor began to utter a few fervent “Alleluias” in accordance with her heritage. 

 A frosty man seated in front of her turned around and glared.  “We don’t say “Alleluia” in the Episcopal Church”, he hissed.

Her Episcopalian friend squeezed her hand and said in a loud whisper “Oh yes we do, it’s on page 366 in the Prayer Book”.

Indeed the 1976/79 Book of Common Prayer offers Episcopalians the chance to express fervent alleluias; indeed “double alleluias”.  We do so between Easter Day and the Day of Pentecost (The Great Fifty Days), at the dismissal. At that point the Deacon exclaims: “Alleluia. Alleluia. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”.  Then the congregation responds with “Thanks be to God. Alleluia, Alleluia”.

 It’s an exciting affirmation of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus it is a powerful liturgical moment which  the Prayer Book reserves  to those “Great Fifty Days”, which we observe as “Extraordinary Time”.

Many congregations are now, (aided and abetted in many cases by their Cleric) extending that “double alleluia” to “Ordinary Time”.  In some places the double alleluia is becoming the year round norm. 

The alleluias are often shrieked out, in a manner which Alan Greenspan might describe as irrational exuberance, or which I would call congregational self-congratulation.

This bothers me. So I was heartened to learn that a friend of mine, a Priest who lives in Maine is similarly bothered.

I suspect that we each would say that our “botheration” is rooted in this: “If the extra-ordinary becomes ordinary, then that “extra-ordinary” is sadly diminished.

That concept is not reserved to matters liturgical.  Most Americans enjoy our Thanksgiving holiday as an extra-ordinary day marked in particular by the foods we eat.  But if on every Thursday of the year we feasted on  turkey with chestnut dressing, sweet potatoes, peas with onions, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and pumpkin or pecan pie (etc, etc) then the fourth Thursday of November (in the U.S.A.)  will cease to have its particular meaning.

And so it is in the matter of the “Alleluia creep”.

In some places the “irrational exuberance” leads to the congregational recitation of a triple alleluia, each one being uttered louder than the previous.  

The American Prayer Book wisely reserves a triple alleluia to only one liturgy (so far as I am aware).  It is in the Liturgy for Christian Burial. There we hear these faith filled words “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia”. We are thereby  “thumbing our noses at death” – so to speak.

I respect and honour the biblical wisdom of the American Prayer book which restricts double Alleluias to  Easter, and triple Alleluias to Burials. That prayer book wisdom is meet and right.  

Indeed it is meet and right to resist the “Alleluia creep”.  What do you think?

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