In some more liturgical traditions, including our Presbyterian one, the “alleluia” (the Hebrew word meaning Praise the Lord) is “buried” during Lent to be brought out again with the risen Christ at Easter. We don’t sing or say (but mostly sing) Alleluia during Lent. We don’t use it at the end of the Confession and Assurance of Pardon (the place it most often shows up) or anywhere else.
Michelle, who writes at Quantum Theology, describes herself as “a mother of two, spouse of one, professor of chemistry, and faithful Roman Catholic.” She writes here about preparing for giving up the alleluia during Lent:
“Let’s see how many alleluias we can get in before Lent begins,” suggests my pastor as he pages through the breviary to pick a hymn to open Morning Prayer. I know what he means; I’m never as mindful of all the ways alleluia plays in my life as I am on the brink of Lent…
The essay, posted originally in CatholicPhilly.com, reflects on the vastness of the alleluia, all the times we use it, how important it is or could be in the Christian life.
I didn’t read Michelle’s post until last night, but we had the same thought. On the way to church yesterday Wordgirl and I found all the versions of Alleluia/Hallelujah I could on my (borrowed) ipod and we played and sang them in the car.
Computerguy is amenable to most of what happens at church, but he is surprisingly scornful of this one liturgical moment. “It’s just a word,” he says. The church kids fuss at each other if one starts singing “Halle Halle Halle,” a perennial favorite, during Lent, and he thinks that’s ridiculous. “Let them sing. I can’t believe they do that.” When I forward to the next song if a Hallelujah comes on my shuffle during Lent, he rolls his eyes and mutters.
I like the practice. As with other kinds of fasts, it makes the thing all the more meaningful when we bring it back. It helps us actually think about the word and how we use it. When we haven’t heard it for 40 days and then on Easter the first words we hear are: “Alleluia, Christ is risen; he is risen indeed.” Wow.
The RevDoc said to the children yesterday that Alleluia is a happy word, and Lent is a time we think about some of the things that aren’t as happy and remember that God is with us even so. Or something like that.
Michelle says later in her post (emphais mine):
I am struck by the thought that if alleluia is truly our song, we might consider responding to everything that happens with that one word, “alleluia” — praise the Lord. Chanting it with passion. Humming it in the ordinary. Spitting it out through clenched teeth. Crying it aloud in joy. Howling it in our worst grief. Holding it in expectant silence through Lent’s desert. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
So on Transfiguration Sunday when we celebrate the mountaintop and the glowing Jesus before he comes down and turns toward Jerusalem and the inevitable cross, we end the service by visibly changing the atmosphere from light to dark. Someone changes the paraments (cloths on the pulpit and lectern) from white to purple, puts a purple sash on the cross, drapes the communion table with a purple cloth. The pastors remove their white stoles and replace them with purple ones. One person carries the Alleluia banner out while someone else brings in a purple “watch and pray” banner as we sing “watch and pray,” the Taizé chorus. We so often use so many words; this is worship made visible.
She usually busies herself with other things at the end of the service, but yesterday Wordgirl was sitting nestled against her dad, intently watching what was happening on the chancel. I wondered if he saw anything different this year as he sat with her.
(Lent graphic courtesy of Crystal Cloud Graphics)