When I was growing up in a Methodist church, we didn’t have the tradition of “burying the Alleluias”—of not saying the word from Ash Wednesday until Easter. When I became an Episcopalian, I thought this was a novel custom, perhaps concocted by clever Christian formation leaders to help conceptualize the season of Lent and its joyous culmination on Easter. After all, the practice of literally burying paper with hand-drawn alleluias is tailormade for young, earnest Sunday School students.
I recently learned that this tradition of omitting alleluia from prayers and songs dates back to as early as the fifth century. During the Middle Ages, the custom emerged of actually bidding farewell to the alleluias. The hymn, “Alleluia, song of gladness” articulates this fasting of the word during Lent and then the joyful exultation of the word on Easter. (You can find the hymn on page 122 of The Hymnal 1982 or here). In an interesting essay on the subject, Episcopal priest Danielle Tumminio Hansen explains more of the reasoning. Given that the word “alleluia” comes from a Hebrew one meaning “Praise God,” it makes sense to refrain from saying the word during the penitential period of Lent. But she goes on to argue that the tradition also symbolizes our relationship to words. As people of the Word, we believe we are shaped and transformed by God’s Word and by the words we speak and pray. By selecting our words carefully, our speech becomes a witness to our beliefs. The words we say (and the ones we don’t) matter, and as people of faith, we must take care to speak with respect and acceptance, love and hope.
As you read the words in the meditations this month, may they remind you of the joys of the Christian life—and the challenges of walking with Jesus.
I wish you a blessed Holy Week and a glorious Easter! (Alleluia. Alleluia).