When to Sing Alleluia

Alleluia“From holy Easter until Pentecost without interruption let ‘Alleluia’ be said both in the Psalms and in the responsories.” —from The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 15.

Last fall, my students and I read the Rule of St. Benedict, and I invited them to rewrite a chapter or two to suit their secular community of college students, an assignment they took up with verve. Chapter 15—when to sing the Alleluia—became a chapter on when it was permissible to chant, in Greek, the college cheer.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, I joined the parish choir for a rehearsal. I’m an irregular member these days, a willing substitute or extra when needed, and so hadn’t been to a rehearsal in weeks, long before the start of Lent. So when we flipped to James Chepponis’s setting of the “Alleluia,” and the organ and trumpet swirled around us, my breath caught in my mouth. Alleluia? I had barely thought the word in weeks, and now we were singing it in four parts, in Lent. St. Benedict’s Rule flashed through my mind. Wait, I wanted to say, until “holy Easter”!Holy Easter duly arrived, and with it, a delightful explosion of Alleluias. But I still wondered at my discomfort with those out-of-season Alleluias. I was reminded of St. Ignatius’s caution to retreatants in the Spiritual Exercises (#127) to “not read any mystery that is not to be used on that day or at that hour, lest the consideration of one mystery interfere with the contemplation of the other.” It can be hard to hear God’s voice in a cacophony, even a cacophony of sacred mysteries.

In these last few days of the school year, there is a steady stream of student visitors to my office, along with a pile of grading that grows each time I take my eyes off it, all leavened with the occasional administrative crisis. It’s tempting to try to juggle all the demands at once, squeezing a bit of grading in a meeting or keeping one eye on my e-mail while a student confesses her struggles with electrochemistry. The memory of those grating Alleluias is reminding me to wait, not anticipate who or what is coming next, that I might hear God clearly in each knock on my door, in each paper I grade, and even in each e-mail that slides into my inbox. Waiting, it seems, is not just for Advent. Alleluia!

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Michelle Francl-Donnay
Michelle Francl-Donnay is the mother of two 20-something sons, a professor of chemistry, an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory, and a regular contributor to Philadelphia Archdiocese’s CatholicPhilly.com, where she writes about the joys and struggles of trying to live a contemplative life in the midst of everyday chaos. Michelle blogs at Quantum Theology.


  1. Well said, Peter. Aside from all the chatter, we do need to get to the ‘doing’. But, I find that sometimes I also need to listen for the ‘little voice’ that speaks to my innermost being; sometimes it is the Christ Child speaking to me in his sweet little child’s voice; other times it is the voice of Mary, his Holy Mother, and our Mother too. They encourage me, and fill my heart with love, that they ask me to share with all those with who I come in contact. That may be by helping, giving alms, even a simple greeting and a smile; the Holy Spirit will show me what is required in each instance.

  2. Brilliant article – much on which to reflect! Very importantly, God calls us to be present to each person God brings. Blessings!

  3. “It can be hard to hear God’s voice in a cacophony, even a cacophony of sacred mysteries.” Yes, Michelle well said. I sometimes wonder if I spend too much time looking at Christian blogs rather than actually getting down to do something for God. The other day I purchased three spiritual books, one of which arrived this morning. I see that I noted in my journal, before reading your piece, that “theology is well and good but action for God speaks louder than words”. Lord, teach me to put aside the cacophony and focus on actually doing your will.


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