Lex orandi, lex credendi. This ancient saying reminds us of the deep, inseparable connection between prayer and faith. Latin is a very rich language, with nuances not easily translated into English, but one good translation is “The rule of prayer is the rule of faith,” or more loosely, “As we pray, so also we believe.” The ancient Church did not need modern psychology to tell her that words, by their very nature, have the power to shape thought.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read,
“When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi … The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays.”CCC 1124
With this backdrop, it’s easy to understand why the Church proscribes the use of the Alleluia during Lent. Alleluia comes from the Hebrew Hallelu-Ya, “Praise the Lord!” (see CCC 2589). Yet the forty days of Lent are meant to remind us of the forty years that the Israelites roamed in the desert. It is a time of reflection and cleansing, a reminder that there was a time when humanity was not redeemed, a time when we wandered in a spiritual desert, awaiting our Savior.
The prohibition of Alleluia is part of a larger orientation of the liturgy toward a more penitential mode; the Gloria, which echoes the words of the angels at Jesus’s birth, is also omitted, and the Responsorial Psalms are drawn from the Penitential Psalms or other psalms that call upon the Lord in times of trial. Flowers are removed from the altar and purple vestments and altar cloths are donned. All these changes help us, according to the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, focus our hearts on repentance and orient our lives more perfectly to the will of God through penance and prayer.
Fasting from Words
On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the entrance song for Mass at my parish was “All Creatures of Our God and King,” with its splendid, recurring Alleluias. I appreciated that the music director took the opportunity to give us a few more Alleluias before we had to fast from that word for seven weeks.
I think it’s helpful to think of it as a fast, as fasting in not only a lesson in self-discipline but also an entrance into deeper prayer. St. Isaac the Syrian, seventh century abbot and bishop venerated in the Eastern churches, wrote:
“When a man begins to fast, he straightway yearns in his mind to enter into a converse with God.”
Think of the fast from the Alleluia (and other joy-filled prayers) as part of your larger Lenten practice. In a recent article that I wrote, “Preparing for a Good Lent Starts Now,” I recommended making some modifications in our homes, as the Church does upon the altar, to always remind us of Lent. These changes in décor are a physical reminder of Lent, and refraining from saying or singing “Alleluia’ is a sort of verbal reminder.
But Wait, There’s more!
There’s a third part to the ancient saying, however, that is often omitted but completes the thought: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi—or loosely, “As we pray, so we believe, and so also we live.” The words we choose—or the words we listen to—not only shape how we think, they shape how we live.
Lent is an opportunity to focus our prayer on recognizing something the modern secular world denies—that we are all sinners in need of repentance and salvation. Though by baptism we have been washed of original sin and clothed in grace, we can sully our holy vestments or even destroy them by sinful thoughts or deeds. When we fast from prayers of joy and acclamation and focus on prayers of repentance, we are taking the time to look closely at our thoughts and our lives to see how we may have strayed from the Father’s plan.
In a broader sense, lex vivendi is also a warning to us to look closely at what influences we allow into our minds throughout the year; in an age where noise is ubiquitous and distractions are only a cellphone-click away, we all need to examine our consciences in this area.
What forms of entertainment, what social or political agendas, what personal relationships are leading us away from virtue and the clear teachings of the Church? Are we living according to truth or conforming ourselves to the world? Are we spending our time worthily or wasting it on frivolous activities that are potentially harmful to our souls? Silence and deep prayer are antidotes to the negative forces that surround us, potentially leading us astray.
The Power of One Word
One word, in itself, may not seem to mean much. But when viewed in a larger context, fasting from Alleluia opens up for us a deeper, broader message—one of praying in order to believe, and believing in order to live. May we live our fast well, so that we yearn more eagerly for the day when we can all together celebrate with joy the Resurrection of our Lord and in one voice cry out, “Alleluia!”
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The Ascension Lenten Companion
Jeannette Williams is the part-time communications coordinator of St. Jude Church and Shrine in Chalfont, Pennsylvania and a freelance writer and blogger. The mother of six, she homeschooled the first five through high school in the classical tradition, while the youngest now attends a new classical high school, Martin Saints, in Oreland, Pennsylvania. Jeannette’s greatest passion, besides her family, is to study the Catholic Faith and share it with others. When she’s not writing, Jeannette enjoys studying Spanish and Japanese, gardening, and spending time with her husband and children.
Featured photo by Jack B on Unsplash