by Sister Fidelis
Today we celebrate the feast of Michael and All Angels, or Michaelmas. This tradition began in the 5th century and became an especially significant feast in some areas. Because it falls near the Autumnal Equinox it was associated with the shortening of days and harvest. In Scotland it became a time for sports, games, horse-races and special harvest foods. In the Middle Ages it was a Holy Day of Obligation.
In the Graduale Romanum we find special Propers for this day – of note is a beautiful Alleluia. The melody is full of energy, rising and falling in ascending patterns. It has an open and lofting feeling much as we’d imagine the movement of angels. It is not a “gentle” piece but rather has a strength – leaps of fourths and fifths and repeated scalar passages, composed in a “major” mode and covering a large range. The text is as always the driving force of the melody and a wonderful prayer to chant:
Alleluia! Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; so that we perish not in the awful judgment.