by The Rev. Lin Lilley,
St. Mark's Interim Rector
One of my favorite church traditions is burying the “Alleluia” on Shrove Tuesday, the evening before Ash Wednesday. In the Albuquerque parish where I previously served, the children would bury a small canister containing each of the letters for A-L-L-E-L-U-I-A tied together on a string. They would bury the letters in an atrium flowerbed as soon as the Shrove Tuesday pancake supper was over. Then, at the Easter Vigil, the children would dig up the Alleluias just before the celebratory Eucharistic on Easter Day. Two children would hold the ends of the string and carry the alleluia strand into the service to the accompaniment of chimes and ringing bells.
Omitting alleluias during Lent has been a custom since at least the fifth century in the western church. Actually bidding the alleluias “farewell” as the children do when they bury the letters and welcoming them back on Easter morning apparently dates back to the Middle Ages.
Why do we bid goodbye to the alleluias for a time? We use this custom as a sort of verbal fast in order to create greater anticipation and joy when we start using the word again. When it appears on Easter, we then hear the alleluias anew.
The Rev. Dennis G. Michno, in his guide for Episcopal priests, A Priest’s Handbook: The Ceremonies of the Church, reminds us that the Latin form “alleluia” or the Hebraic form “hallelujah” are exclamations of joy and praise. The authors of An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopaliansgive us a bit more history. “Hallelujah” is an ancient Hebrew “praise-shout.” It means “Praise Yah,” which is a shortened form of the word “Yahweh.” It is translated into Latin as “alleluia” and into English as “Praise the Lord.”
May resting the alleluias give us all a renewed sense on Easter Day that we are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus each time we use this praise-shout.
May yours be a holy Lent.