On April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland, Handel’s famous oratorio Messiah was premiered. Surprised? When we think of the Messiah we immediately think of Christmastime. Woe to the city orchestra that dares pass the holiday season without at least one performance of one of western music’s most beloved pieces. Yet, far from being a Nativity carol, the Messiah is truly an Easter gift.
Part II of the oratorio closes with one of the most well known choruses, “Hallelujah.” It occurs during scene seven, titled “God’s ultimate victory.” This follows scenes dedicated to the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ.
For the lord God omnipotent reigneth
The kingdom of this world; Is become
The kingdom of our Lord, And of His Christ
And He shall reign for ever and ever
King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
And lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
And he shall reign forever and ever
At the beginning of Holy Week, we celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, humbly on a donkey. We are then invited to journey with him. We are there at the Last Supper when the Eucharist is instituted. We stand with the Blessed Mother and John the Evangelist at the foot of the Cross. We mourn Jesus’ death with them. We are asked, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” But then, at the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday, we rejoice at the news that the tomb is empty. Christ is risen, he is truly risen. At Mass, we do not exclaim “Alleluia” just once. We proclaim it three times.
The “Hallelujah” Chorus presents us with what the Triduum and Easter are all about. Christ, through his sacrifice on Good Friday, he takes on the sins of the world and opens Heaven up for the faithful. In his Resurrection on Easter Sunday, death is overcome. In conquering both sin and death, Jesus truly becomes the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. His rule knows no end, for he reigns for all time.
Tradition dictates that when the chorus is sung, all must stand out of reverence for the Messiah. During the Easter season, and indeed all our lives, we too must stand and journey with Christ. By doing so, we take part in that kingdom of our Lord. By doing so, we remain close to the Lord of Lords. By doing so, we can be part of the heavenly chorus that forever sings, “Hallelujah!”
Victor David is a Senior at The Catholic University of America and Trustee of the Knights of Columbus at Catholic University.
I am scared of Lent. There: I said it. This cradle Catholic, with plenty of Lents under her belt, is scared of one of the most sacred liturgical seasons in the Church.
I’m not saying I don’t love it. I do. I loved when my favorite priest buried the “Hallelujah,” and then emptied our Church of decoration, only adding more as we got further into Lent and into spring. I love (well, love/hate) fasting, and the way my mind is automatically drawn toward my dependence on God and solidarity with others. And my favorite color is purple. So, yeah, Lent is my season.
But I’m scared of it. Truth be told, I feel like I’m bad at Lent – never repentant enough, never serious enough, never sacrificing or doing enough. When I was little, I made charts to track my progress through the 40 days free of candy, or Facebook, or whatever I gave up. When I got older, I got smarter and started adding to my Lenten routine. More Scripture, more prayer, more almsgiving. Usually I do okay striking a balance between sacrificing for God and building toward God, but this year…all bets are off.
This year, away from home, family, and friends, I’ve been feeling so restless. Isn’t this season a time to rest in God, and prepare our hearts for that life-changing Resurrection? Part of me feels like, “God, haven’t I given up enough? I’ve followed you into this desert that is rural Kentucky!” But part of me (and I’m sure this is the part the Holy Spirit is dealing with) knows there is always more. We can always remove more that stands in our way to the fullness of God.
Yet, as Lent draws to an end, I still feel like I am figuring out what I’m doing. My housemates have all dutifully prayed; they have gracefully denied sweets and coffee and swear words. All I’ve managed to do is plod along through Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain, because hey – third time’s a charm, right? In the meantime, I thumb through my notebook still rewriting different versions of my Lenten plan.
And there lies my problem; I am still trying to plan Lent. I have turned it into some Christian New Year’s Resolutions/Get-Right Plan for Lent 2013. If I “do” A, B, and C, then the Resurrection will surely come! If I “do” Lent with enough sacrifice, enough Bible study, enough whatever, then I’m sure to feel the Resurrection like never before. But maybe that’s not the way to do it. The Rev. William Bradley, in a sermon given on the first Sunday of Lent, said, “The difference between us and Jesus is that he doesn’t run from…insecurity, rather he embraces, inhabits it as part of his life with God. Rather than trying to fill it with people, things, drugs, and busyness, he sits with his emptiness to see if God will show up.”
I haven’t quite figured out what I’m “doing” this Lenten season, and maybe that’s okay. Maybe I need to simply take my restlessness to God in prayer and sit with it, until I’m no longer with the restlessness but with the peace and grace that is God. Only once I can settle into being this Lent, can I start to actually do the life-giving practices of this holy season and rejoice in His resurrection that lies ahead.
Katherine Biegner recently graduated from Assumption College and is currently serving as a tutor and mentor in the Christian Appalachian Project in rural Kentucky.
Some years ago, a dear friend and I began what we would term our "Advent Tradition." We would do something to celebrate Christmas before we both left Washington, D.C. for the holiday. (I hope that sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me…) That year, we went to see Messiah at the Kennedy Center. It was our first time seeing Handel's oratorio, heard over and over in concert halls across the world in the days leading up to Christmas. After the singing of the "Hallelujah Chorus," my friend leaned over to me and said, "I thought that was supposed to be a Christmas song, but we had to wait until Easter for them to break it out."
Advent has always occupied a special place in my imagination. Initially, I'm sure, it was because of those quintessential Advent practices. We had an evergreen wreath with four candles, a new one lit each week (when do we light the pink one??). We sang songs at church that we didn't hear at any other time of the year. The rest of the world was tiring of "All I Want for Christmas is You" by mid-December and, in church at least, we hadn't heard one strain of "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Resisting the temptation to peek behind the doors of our Advent calendar taught me something about patience and delayed gratification.
What I came to realize, though, is that Advent, with all of these little traditions, encapsulates the tension of living the Christian life. We live in the here and now, knowing that Christ in his first coming has sanctified all of our existence, but longing for the day when he will return to us. Longing for the day when the confusion and struggles of this life will be no more, when mountains will be lowered and valleys filled, when the lion will lie down with the lamb, and when peace will reign.
Living in Advent is living in tension - aware of what is our past and what we long our future to be. Every day we live in the Advent tension of life and death, of suffering and wholeness, of love and loss, of peace and violence, of acceptance and rejection, of excess and poverty, of oneness and loneliness, of questions and surety, of hope and doubt. The question is, do we welcome Christ into this tension?
As my friend and I walked out of the Kennedy Center that night, I realized that, despite an attempt at celebrating Christmas, we glimpsed an Advent moment. We were reminded, one more time, that without the Passion, we could not shout "Hallelujah!" The tension of Advent surrounds us, but how well do we allow Christ to enter into that uncertainty and woundedness? If we do welcome Christ into our tension, we also welcome the new life that Christ brings with his Resurrection. That's an Advent worth celebrating.
David Pennington is the Associate Campus Minister for Liturgy and Worship at The Catholic University of America.