In the Book of Common Prayer, at the end of the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy on page 366, we have a rubric that tells us, “The Bishop when present, or the Priest, may bless the people. The Deacon, or the Celebrant, dismisses them with these words:” We are then given four options the Deacon or the Celebrant can use. After these options, we see another rubric that says, “From the Easter Vigil through the Day of Pentecost “Alleluia, alleluia” may be added to any of the dismissals. The People respond, Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia.”
There is a whole lot to unpack here! Firstly, we must pay attention to the words the Prayer Book authors use. Any time we see the word “may”, that tells us that we have an option. Did you know that in a Rite II liturgy, the blessing at the end of the service is optional? I bet you never noticed that rubric before! The reasoning behind this is that a blessing isn’t really necessary because we just received the Body of Christ moments ago. Is there a more important blessing than having the Real Presence of Christ within us? These rubrics also tell us preferences. If a Bishop is present for a service, it is the Bishop’s prerogative to give the final blessing. The Bishop may ask a priest to give the blessing instead, and in many cases they will. However, if Bishop Reddall ever happens to stop by St. John’s, I will always give her the option to offer the final blessing.
We then see that the Deacon or the Celebrant dismisses the people. Again, we see an order of preference. The Deacon is listed first. We also notice that this is not a may rubric. Every Rite II service must end with a dismissal, preferably given by the Deacon. This is because the emphasis of Rite II is service oriented. By virtue of our baptisms, we are ministers of the Lord and we are called to go out and do his work. The Deacon, as the bridge between the Church and the world, is the best person to remind us of this. If there is no Deacon present, the Priest dismisses the people. Interestingly, in a Rite I service, the final blessing is a must rubric, and the dismissal is a may. In Rite II, it’s the other way around.
And now we come to the controversial part: “From the Easter Vigil through the Day of Pentecost “Alleluia, alleluia” may be added to any of the dismissals. The People respond, Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia.” We already know to look for the very important word “may”. This is a may rubric. It is not required. However, most liturgists do choose to include the alleluias after the dismissal during the season of Easter. Why is this controversial? Well, because sometimes it feels like we ought to yell out, “alleluia!” even if it’s not Easter!
I have been asked by a number of people why the alleluias are no longer included in the bulletin. If you’ve read this far, then you know that it’s because the rubrics don’t permit it. “But Fr. Tim, you seem like the kind of guy who is willing to break a rubric from time to time!” Well, you’ve got me there. I am willing to break a rubric if I can explain theologically why I am breaking the rubric. For example, you may notice that the altar party receives communion after the rest of the congregation. And Deacon Chuck and I receive communion last. This is a huge violation of a rubric! On page 365, we see, “The ministers receive the Sacrament in both kinds, and then immediately deliver it to the people.” Uh oh! The liturgy police are after me now! But I can explain theologically why I am breaking the rubric. If you are hosting a party, don’t you get your food last, after everyone else has eaten? I do. Well, the altar party is kind of hosting the event. I think it is much more hospitable for the clergy to receive at the end.
So why don’t we shout alleluia? The answer is because we don’t want to cheapen Easter. Easter is so important that we want it to stand out as much as possible. We begin the service by shouting alleluia and we end the service by shouting alleluia. We set it aside. We elevate it. We celebrate it! And when it is over, we feel a little sad. But you know what? Feeling sad helps us to find it that much more meaningful when it comes around again. If we never take a break from the alleluias, then they don’t hit us as hard when we say them at Easter. Will I become upset with you if you happen to say the alleluias and it isn’t Easter? Of course not. However, we don’t include them in the bulletin and they are not part of the liturgy for the time being. I encourage you to notice that they’re gone, and pay attention to how you feel when you notice. You’ll learn something about yourself! And when Easter rolls around again, and we shout alleluia again, it will be a truly wonderful feeling.