Alleluia, alleluia

Eastertide is a time of great joy in the church, and the exuberance expressed in much of the music is infectious, with motets being appended at every opportunity with catchy Alleluia refrains. The propers of the Mass are likewise peppered, and Alleluia takes over entirely after the first reading. Here, in the Graduale Romanum, the Gradual is replaced by a second Alleluia. 

The Graduale Romanum contains the official music for use in the [Ordinary Form of the] Mass, the entirety of which is Plainchant. The extra Alleluia is a wonderful example of the joy of the church being expressed in music, yet, since it is something out of the ordinary, it can cause confusion to musicians as well as the congregation and readers who perhaps think that the choir has unceremoniously glossed over the second reading!

The traditional manner of singing these two Alleluias stems from the Tridentine Mass (Extraordinary Form) when they would be sung back-to-back between the Epistle and the Gospel. The rule of thumb is neatly summarised as follows:

Alleluia 1: repeat, then don’t
Alleluia 2: don’t repeat, then do

That is, in Alleluia 1, the choir repeats the cantor’s intonation but the Alleluia is not repeated at the end of the verse. In Alleluia 2, the cantor intones and the choir joins in at the asterisk rather than repeating. At the end of the verse, the Alleluia is repeated.

This same formula can be observed in the beautiful propers by William Byrd for Ascension, Pentecost and Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary during Eastertide.

Although this manner of performance is somewhat archaic within the Ordinary Form of the Mass, it is one that works well in practice, and it is satisfying, indeed important, to maintain our musical and liturgical links to the past, to ensure that Plainchant continues to occupy a central role in our liturgies and composers such as Byrd have as much of a voice today as ever.