Putting away the alleluia

Today is called the Sunday next before Lent. In other words, in three days time we mark Ash Wednesday and the start of the pilgrim road to Jerusalem. A lot will happen between now and dawn on Easter morning though. Lent is upon us!

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Lent is the decision of love that we make each year to share the road towards Jerusalem with the Lord Jesus. The drama of palm leaves, fragrant nard, silver coins, broken bread and wine outpoured regathers our attention. The Via Dolorosa is ready to be laid anew. Golgotha stands ready once again. The garden tomb is waiting afresh to be filled.

Do you know about the tradition of not using the word “alleluia” or “hallelujah” in Lent? Bishop William Duranti (1296) voiced in his commentaries on the Divine Office: “We part from the Alleluia as from a beloved friend, whom we embrace many times and kiss on the mouth, head and hand, before we leave him.” It is one of the ways we show what a different kind of season Lent truly is. Some call Lent The Bright Sadness. The promise of Easter endures but in Lent we let it lie veiled in penitential purple. And so although Lent is a journey, it is also an interruption damming for a while, the flow of resurrection hope that defines our gospel story. Lent is the decision of surrender that we make each year to live the disciplines of confession and penitence. If our road truly takes us to Jerusalem, treasure lies in every single step of self-restraint along the road to Jerusalem. Once the journey to Jerusalem is complete, Jesus will finally be led outside the city walls, to a cross of wood where he will bridge the distance that separates a broken, lost, hurting humanity from God, who is altogether good, loving and just. Lent invites us once again to enter into this radical form of reconciliation, preparing ourselves to be full partners in the scandal of the Cross, and in the dangerous rumour of the Resurrection to come.

When Jesus came down from the mount of Transfiguration, he began to tell his disciples that he would be betrayed and crucified.

For the days of Lent, we discontinue singing and saying, “Alleluia.”

Jesus told his disciples, “If you want to become my followers, deny yourselves and take up your cross and follow me.”

Jesus did not enter into glory before he stretched out his arms on the hardwood of the cross.

At Easter we will again celebrate the Resurrection
and sing “Christ is risen.”

The practice of putting away the Alleluia invites us to hold back from using this word during Lent so we can save it for the special celebration on Easter.  The intention is to let the word rest so that when it reappears on Easter we might hear it anew and experience the joy of Christ’s resurrection in renewed and meaningful ways.

Putting away the Alleluia is not about abstaining from praising and expressing our love and devotion to God. All kinds of traditions have customs that if celebrated every day would no longer be special. Saving the singing of “Happy Birthday” for birthdays and decorating a Christmas tree for Christmas helps us to know those are special times of celebration. The same can be true for burying the Alleluia. And yes, in some traditions I do mean burying! Bishop William Duranti explained that the choirboys were put in charge of a mock funeral; a straw figure in golden letters the inscription “Alleluia” was carried out of the choir at the end of the service and burned in the church yard.

We desist from saying Alleluia, the song chanted by angels, because we have been excluded from the company of the angels on account of Adam’s sin. In the Babylon of our earthly life we sit by the streams, weeping as we remember Sion. For as the children of Israel in an alien land hung their harps upon the willows, so we too must forget the Alleluia song in the season of sadness, of penance, and bitterness of heart. Gradually to prepare the minds of the faithful for the serious time of penance and sorrow; to remind the sinner of the grievousness of his errors, and to exhort him to penance.

But, be careful friends. We do not, we dare not, we cannot fast from praise – and yet, if we do, even the rocks and stones themselves would start to sing!

Does alleluia have any part in your story?

  • If alleluia is an attitude not a matter of style, are you a person of praise?
  • If alleluia is a way of being not just a word, are we a church of praise?

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